Kerrie Forbes likens Caribbean weather to a pot of boiling water. You may know the temperature and condition of the water, but it’s hard to predict where a bubble will break the surface.
Forbes, 28, a UCCI alumna, and her colleagues at the Cayman Islands National Weather Service try to predict those bubbles, along with tracking the more defined weather systems that affect the Cayman Islands every day. As the newest member of the team, and its first-ever female forecaster, Forbes said she is still learning how to read computer models and anticipate what may be coming.
Forbes, who earned an associate degree in science from UCCI in 2014, didn’t set out to be a meteorologist.
“I was initially going to do painting and media design,” she said. But the uncertainties of such a career were daunting. “I decided I wanted something more stable.”
So, she moved to the next logical thing: physics.
When she made that decision, she had already been studying art for a year at the University of Chester in the United Kingdom. She didn’t have the prerequisite courses she needed to pursue a science degree, so she came back home to Cayman to do them at UCCI.
UCCI, she said, gave her the tools she needed to succeed, and more.
“It gave me all the background knowledge I needed,” Forbes said of her courses here.
But it also gave her opportunities to go beyond the campus. In her second year of school, she got the chance to travel abroad.
“Dr. Deborah Beal, she was my environmental science teacher, she came to me to tell me about the Women in Science program.”
Forbes, along with another student, who was studying biology, applied to the program and both were able to travel to Austria where they spent two weeks learning about careers in science. They met and spoke with women who had such careers.
She recalls how a UCCI instructor, Ray Jones, went out of his way to help her pursue such a goal.
“I specifically wanted to study physics and when I was doing it, there were four terms offered,” Forbes said.
When she reached the final term, she said, she found the class was being cancelled because she was the only one enroled. But when she told the instructor, Ray Jones, that she needed the course in order to graduate, he agreed to help her with what amounted to an independent study course.
“I was so happy that I wasn’t hung out to dry,” she said.
After getting her associate degree, she transferred to the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Her plan was to eventually work in medical physics. But in her second year there, a notice on a corkboard caught her eye. It was for an internship at the local meteorological station.
“It made me think it was something I could do back home with my degree,” she said.
She worked at the local station during the academic year, and that summer she got an internship at the Cayman weather station, next to the airport. It felt like a good fit to her.
With physics, she said, you’re using science to study the universe, from the most distant stars to subatomic particles, trying to figure out the ways in which things work. Meteorology, she said, is much the same: looking at certain conditions and trying to understand what’s happening and what may happen.
Weather prediction is an even greater challenge now that the increase in global temperatures is changing the traditional models, creating more uncertainty. Even when a system is more defined, the weather can still surprise the experts. Tropical Storm Grace, which hit Grand Cayman Aug. 18, is a clear example.
“With Grace, we were expecting 35- to 40-knot winds, with an excess of 60-knot gusts, Forbes said. “I didn’t’ foresee gusts of as much as 93 knots, which is what we got. I was like, ‘Oh, no.’”
A week later, a second hurricane, Ida, similarly surprised forecasters in Louisiana when it picked up last-minute speed and suddenly went from a Category 2 to a Category 4 storm.
With the increased degree of uncertainty, Forbes said she encourages everyone on the island to always be ready.
“When we provide a tropical storm or hurricane watch,” she said, “I hope that prompts people to get prepared and maybe consider going to a shelter.”
Forbes joined the National Weather Service in 2018, the same year she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Exeter. She said she has continued to educate herself using materials from the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Prediction Center.
“I’m still learning tropical weather,” she said.
She plans on taking online courses through the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology in Barbados. And, she said, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in climate and meteorology in the near future.
Having UCCI “to come home to” when she needed it was a blessing, she said. She is even more grateful that it gave her the foundation she needed to continue her path of study.
She hopes others recognize Cayman’s public university for the important resource that it is.
“UCCI was a great experience for me,” she said. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today without it.”
If you are interested in starting your success story at UCCI, visit our website at ucci.edu.ky or set up an appointment with our admissions team by calling 623-0567.