Ernesto Morales, '00, Keeps An Eye On Dangerous Weather In His Homeland of Puerto Rico
By Tony Scott

evan-dutmer-picErnesto Morales, '00, at work for the National Weather Service in Puerto Rico.

If severe weather is poised to strike Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Ernesto Morales, ’00, is there to ensure the public knows about it.

Morales, who received his bachelor’s degree at NIU in meteorology, is a warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Weather Forecast Office in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In his position, Morales coordinates and disseminates weather warnings and information to the public, emergency management agencies, and other relevant agencies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The purpose of my work is to ensure effective communication and response strategies during severe weather events, helping communities stay informed and safe,” he said.

Morales said he stays busy throughout the year, not just during hurricane season.

“While the public often associates our work solely with hurricane hazards, we also handle various other weather-related and non-weather hazards,” he said. “Some instances include flooding from intense rainfall, hazardous marine conditions caused by heavy seas, and concerns related to fire weather and droughts. The crucial aspect of my role is fostering collaborations between the public and private sectors in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Morales came from a family of educators that stressed the importance of learning.

“Growing up with educators as parents, my mother taught fifth-grade math, and my father was a biochemistry professor and researcher at the University of Puerto Rico,” he said. “They consistently urged me to prioritize education, regardless of my chosen path in life.”

Morales loved the outdoors growing up and was fascinated with the weather. He still enjoys being outside and being active.

“From a young age, our family activities depended on the weather conditions,” he said. “I recall sailing trips around local islands and holiday vacations sailing across the Virgin Islands for weeks, always with my dad keenly monitoring the weather. In my early teens, I delved into the sport of bodyboarding, sparking my enduring fascination with weather. I've never ceased sailing or surfing, and checking weather conditions has become a daily routine, all the more rewarding that I chose it as my career.”

At age 20, he joined the NWS as a student volunteer. Before coming to NIU, Morales completed a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras Campus. After NIU, he earned an MBA from the Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan.

Morales said he applied to NIU for a number of reasons.

“NIU boasted an excellent meteorology program within the geography department, featuring smaller classes that facilitated personalized education tailored for roles at the National Weather Service,” he said. “I cannot stress enough the significance of the support I received from my group of friends and professors throughout my years at NIU.”

Morales fondly remembers his time living in DeKalb and going to NIU. He said it was while attending NIU that he experienced snow for the first time.

“Forming close friendships with fellow students, I explored DeKalb and, during weekends, ventured into the various offerings of the Chicago area,” he said. “This experience remains a cherished highlight of my life. Whenever I revisit the Chicago area, I make it a point to drive to DeKalb and share with my family the place where I pursued my education.”

One of his most influential mentors, whom he still considers a friend, is now-retired professor Dr. David Changnon.

“His guidance extended beyond academics, aiding me in navigating cultural adjustments,” Morales said of Changnon. “As a Caribbean individual, his support was invaluable in acclimating to the local culture and colder climate challenges. Even after 20 years, I continue to seek his advice on career decisions.”

Morales joined the NWS team in San Juan in 2001 after briefly working at the agency’s office in Key West, Florida, after graduation from NIU. He has held his current position for the past 12 years.

Morales said he loves his job but finds it challenging when he has to leave his family – his wife and two teenage sons – during dangerous weather.

“The most challenging aspect of my job arises when I must part from them during tropical cyclones affecting our region,” he said. “Leaving my family at crucial moments is undeniably difficult, yet they wholeheartedly grasp the significance of my role. They take pride in the contributions I make to the safety and well-being of the residents and visitors of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

During his job, he said he encounters those who are thankful for the NWS’s work in helping to keep them safe.

“In my role as the visible representative of our agency across the islands, expressions of gratitude frequently come our way,” he said. “People extend their thanks for the tireless efforts we invest in keeping citizens well-informed about hazardous weather conditions. The appreciation also extends to the proactive measures we take to prepare the public before the impact of a tropical system. These expressions of gratitude affirm the value of our work and the impact it has on the safety and preparedness of our communities.”

Morales said he has some advice for current students who are deciding on what to pursue for their careers.

“Avoid choosing a career solely based on external recommendations, and don't let financial considerations be the sole driving force behind your career path,” he said. “My advice to all NIU students is to pursue your passion. When you follow what truly captivates you, you're more likely to cultivate a genuine love for your job. This, in turn, can significantly impact your overall life satisfaction and fulfillment.”