Next stop, the South Pole

Ely scholar Janelle Hakala combines meteorology with adventure

by Tom Coombe -

Janelle Hakala is combining her passion for weather and a zest for adventure into an experience of a lifetime.
Later this year, the valedictorian of Ely Memorial High School’s Class of 2013 will depart for the South Pole, and at least a one-year stint working for a government contractor as a meteorologist.
“I love adventure,” Hakala said Thursday. “I saw the job posting at the South Pole and I thought ‘why not?’ It’s really intense, one of the most extreme climates in the world.”
How extreme? Try temperatures as low as -70 during the winter, with still teeth-chattering 20-below readings during the summer.
Hakala will experience it all during her work for Pacific Architects and Engineers, a government contractor that works with Antarctic Support Contract to hire personnel for the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program.
In November, Hakala will report to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in early November 2017, with duties including sending up weather balloons twice a day and forecast research.
The love of weather came early on for Hakala, thanks in large part to her parents, Joanne Hakala and the late Jon Hakala.
“I grew up watching the weather with my dad,” Hakala said. “With my parents both working for the Forest Service and talking about the weather and fires, it kind of got me interested.”
Hakala found a niche in math and science, finishing first in her high school class and taking her studies west to Grand Forks, where in May she graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of North Dakota, with a bachelor of science degree in atmospheric sciences, with a minor in mathematics.
While attending UND, Hakala was accepted into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program. This program not only paid for a large portion of her schooling, but also gave her an opportunity to intern at a NOAA office. She worked at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center during the summer of 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah, conducting research on climate predictions and water supply forecasts.
This summer, Hakala accepted a job as a radar meteorologist with the North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board - a division of the North Dakota State Water Commission. Her position is located in the western part of the state and is on the North Dakota Cloud Modification Project. The project involves seeding clouds for hail damage reduction and rain enhancement.
Those duties will end later this month and the South Pole will soon beckon.
It’s possible the job could lead to additional time in Antarctica, but Hakala is unsure what will come next.
She’s sure, however, that it will be in the weather field.
“If I want, I could potentially go back (to the South Pole) for a random year,” she said. “Maybe I would like to work for the National Weather Service and go that route. Maybe hydrology. I’m still quite not sure.”
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