Director, Alaska Region, National Weather Service
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Fun Fact: Met her husband because of the weather. A pilot, he called her for daily briefings when she was a forecasting office intern in Kodiak.
Ever had a weekend outing thwarted by the weather? A barbecue that turned into a soggy lawn party? A snow dump that trapped you in your driveway? Don’t shoot the messenger! As director of the National Weather Service’s Alaska Region, Aimee Devaris has been blamed for rainy camping trips and, on the flip side, thanked for a sunny wedding day. Either way, she rolls with it and can laugh about the misconception that she, personally, is in charge of Alaska’s volatile seas and skies.
What she is in charge of are the 250 scientists and technicians tasked with monitoring and forecasting weather using 200 observing systems from 20 locations around Alaska. No small feat in a state with temperatures that can range from 60 below zero to the high 90s, as well as freeze-thaw cycles that swell rivers and winds that whip coastal waters into a frenzy.
So, what made Aimee choose a career in meteorology? Growing up in Ohio and Texas, she can remember being awed by the power of tornados and hurricanes. One particularly powerful tornado, an F5 (winds of 261–318 MPH), struck her old Ohio hometown after her family had moved to Texas, causing incredible damage. Photos of the aftermath sent her running for the library.
“I was checking out every book—stuff that was way over my head at the age of 10—but just trying to understand how something like that could happen,” she said. “Then I went back to Ohio to visit my grandparents and the roller skating rink where I had been, the pancake house where I had eaten, all gone, wiped off the face of the earth. I think that was really what did it for me. It made me want to understand and learn as much as I could about the weather.”
From Texas to Kodiak on a whim
When it came time for college, she had her eye out for good meteorology programs and settled on Texas A&M. Her senior year, National Weather Service recruiters came to talk about internship opportunities in Alaska. The pictures of glaciers and mountains they showed piqued her interest and she interviewed with them.
Two months later, they called to encourage her to apply for a full-time gig in Kodiak. Sure enough, she got the job.
“It was funny because I hadn’t told my friends or my parents or anyone that I was doing this, it was just sort of a lark,” she said. But the opportunity was too good to pass up, so she packed her bags to head to a very weathery island in Alaska.
“I don’t think there is any place I could have gone where the weather information is so woven into everyone’s daily life,” she said. Commercial fishing fleets, Coast Guard search and rescue, pilots flying residents in and out of the island, they all leaned heavily on the Kodiak forecasts.
Aimee also met her future husband in Kodiak. A pilot, she got to know him over the phone when he called her for daily weather briefings. One night he casually asked if he could come by for a tour of the office, right as Aimee was getting off. A few years later, they were married. He still calls Aimee for weather briefings, but now it’s to see what the skies are going to do if he takes their 4-year-old-son out fishing or camping.
Learning to be the boss in UAA’s Engineering and Science Management Program
Following her post in Kodiak, Aimee transferred to Juneau where she worked as a forecaster, her dream job when she originally began studying meteorology. What she couldn’t have predicted back when she was a college student was that she’d eventually take on management roles, and that she’d love them. That path led her to Anchorage, then Washington, D.C., then back to Anchorage.
The first Anchorage move also gave her the opportunity to enroll in a graduate program at UAA. She chose the Engineering and Science Management Program.
“It was perfect. It was exactly the type of curriculum and the type of higher education I needed to move further with my career in the weather service,” she said.
The most important thing she learned? How to be a good boss. One course, she recalled, focused specifically on the management of technical people, a skill that would serve her well in the National Weather Service.
Shortly after she accepted her master’s degree, Aimee and her husband made the cross-country move to Washington, D.C., a place they thought would be perfect for starting a family since it was close to her husband’s extended family. While she and her husband enjoyed their time in D.C., a conversation over dinner one night made it clear that the pace of life in the nation’s capital was not conducive to family life.
“We came to the realization that we couldn’t really get a dog because we weren’t home enough,” she said with a laugh. “Then we thought, well, if we can’t get a dog, how are we supposed to have a baby here? Who is going to raise it? Not us, we’re not home.”
Then, in 2008, the cards fell into place for Aimee to return to Anchorage, this time as deputy regional director. This year, she accepted the top post of director for the Alaska region.
“I wouldn’t have the job I have today had I not gone back to D.C. and taken some of the positions there. And the education I got at UAA really helped me get into those positions,” she said.
The pace of life in Alaska is a good fit for the Devaris family. In her off hours, Aimee likes to join her husband and son in outdoor adventures. For now, her husband has traded in his airplane for a boat and they’ve been exploring coastal Alaska as much as possible.
This summer they’ve been exploring Resurrection Bay, spotting whales, porpoises, seals and sea birds. “I feel like we live in the most beautiful place on earth.”
“I try not to let a rainy day affect my plans, but I try to always be informed about the weather and make good choices,” she said.
Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement