Each Groundhog Day, the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center honors a scientist whose contributions have furthered the science of meteorology and broadcast meteorology by inducting him or her into the Meteorologist Hall of Fame. This year’s inductee is meteorologist Erik Salna who is Associate Director of Visualization, Communication, Public Education, and Engagement for the Extreme Events Institute (EEI) and the International Hurricane Research Center (IHRC) at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami.
Salna’s interest in weather was sparked as a child growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. He experienced lightening hitting a tree outside his bedroom window, the blizzards of 1967 and 1979, and thundersnow. These events started a fascination with weather that has stayed with Salna and has contributed to his focus on extreme weather.
Salna earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physical geography with an emphasis in meteorology from the University of Illinois and his Master of Science in meteorology from Northern Illinois University. His diverse career includes over 25 years of broadcast meteorology, serving as director of the Hurricane Warning Education Program at the Disaster Survival House in Deerfield, Fla., and time at America’s Emergency Network, which provides video streaming of emergency information for the media, emergency management agencies, and the public.
In his current position at IHRC, which is a research and education organization with a goal of reducing hurricane damage and loss of life, Salna was a part of the team that constructed the Wall of Wind, an experimental facility capable of simulating hurricane force winds up to Category 5 for the purpose of hurricane engineering and damage mitigation.
Throughout his career, Salna’s focus and passion has been education outreach. He has participated in and presented many outreach programs, including the National Weather Service’s Owlie Skywarn Live Theater Show. His current endeavor, however, might be his greatest public education effort to date: Extreme Weather Experience is a one-of-a-kind company that develops weather education/entertainment experiences, such as hands-on exhibits, interactive programs, and immersive live events, as a way to teach people how to be prepared and to survive dangerous weather situations. As chief creative officer of Extreme Weather Experience, Salna has gathered an impressive advisory group of professionals whose affiliations include Disney, Pixar Films, the National Weather Service, The Weather Channel, and more.
“I believe entertaining special effects and immersive techniques can be used to educate the public about extreme weather,” says Salna. “Immersing a person in a hurricane, tornado, or flood could cause a positive change in behavior regarding preparedness and safety.”
Salna will bring an example of these immersive experiences when he visits Punxsutawney for his induction. Augmented reality and virtual reality headsets will be available to visitors who attend Salna’s special presentations of Extreme Weather – Are You Ready? The half-hour long shows will be on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 3 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 2 at 11 a.m. Attendees ages 10 and up will have the opportunity to try one of the headsets. Those who wish to attend the presentations, which will be held in the theater, must pay the $7 regular admission. They will then be asked for a $2 donation per person to attend the show.
On Saturday, Salna’s Hall of Fame Induction ceremony will begin at noon. Following the program, the public can meet Salna, see Punxsutawney Phil—who will be in attendance—and enjoy groundhog cookies and punch. The cost to attend the induction ceremony is $7 per person, children two and under free.
To read more about this event, and other activities scheduled during the Groundhog Day celebration visit https://weatherdiscovery.org/programs/children-adult-programs/