A well-rounded senior meteorology major, Ohio resident Zachary Hiris has built a database for the National Weather Service, co-managed forecasting for a state agency and school districts, risen to president of the Meteorology Club, made the golf team for three years and already signed on for a graduate school.

Where did you grow up?

I lived in Bowling Green, a small city in northwest Ohio, all my life. I graduated from Van Buren High School in a class of 71 people -- the school was in the middle of farmland. My mom was a teacher there.

When and how did you get interested in meteorology?

It's just been a passion of mine as long as I can remember. I remember that's what I decided to do when, at our second-grade career day, most of the people wanted to be athletes and stuff like that, and I said I wanted to be a weather forecaster. Growing up, I tried to learn as much as I could from online research. I watched the weather every day and, as a self-taught thing, learned to forecast in middle school and high school -- and found out I was pretty decent at it.

Why did you choose SUNY Oswego?

This was actually the only school I applied to. There are only two schools with meteorology in the state of Ohio, and they're both really big schools -- Ohio State and Ohio University. The summer after my junior year of high school, my mom and I took the drive up here. I knew the moment I got on campus that this was the place I wanted to spend all four years. Of course, the really active weather we get around here, especially in the winter, was a real plus, too. I enrolled here in the fall of 2014.

What are your next steps and career plans?

For the near term, I've already signed a letter of intent to be a master's student at Iowa State University. When I was doing a research internship last summer in Iowa, I had reached out to one of the ISU professors, Dr. William Gallus, who had done some studies that would help my research. We wound up getting along really well, and he encouraged me to apply. I'll be pursuing a career with the National Weather Service. The NWS issues the watches and warnings; that's what I want to do. I still have some research interests, mostly thunderstorms, and that's what I'll actually be doing as a graduate student. I'm more interested in non-tornado-producing storms. Sometimes, understanding why storms are not producing severe weather can be more important than studying the storms that actually do. Sometimes, thunderstorms in the morning can impact storms that go on to produce tornadoes later in the day.

Have you had any internships?

This summer, I did a 10-week research internship through the NOAA Hollings Scholarship with the NWS office in Des Moines, Iowa. I did research on significant wind-driven hailstorms, which are storms that produce large hail and high wind at the same time. While they're rare -- we're talking about golf ball-size or larger hail being blown around by 75 mph winds -- they do a ton of damage. My research was to build a database of all these storms and see whether there are common features, so that when we're looking at real-time radar data, if we start to notice these signs, the NWS can issue warnings that could save lives.

Do you have any minors?

I added a communication and social interaction minor last year. I think I started to realize my sophomore year that the scientists -- especially us meteorologists -- can tend to get isolated from other people. We have all these fancy terms and all these acronyms we use. But weather goes far beyond the science; the public needs weather information -- it's critical for the economy, for saving lives and property. I've always been interested in how we can effectively communicate, not just from science to the public but the other way around, too -- how can we respond to the feedback people are giving us.

What do you think of your fellow students?

We're such a small major, sharing all the same classes -- you get to become really good friends. Some of my best friends have come from within the major, and even people who graduated two years ago, I still am in contact with every day. These people are great. 

What do you think of your professors?

My first meteorology professor, Dr. Bob Ballentine -- he's retired now -- really believed that I could accomplish a lot of things. It gave me the belief that I could. The current professors here have done a great job with building my own belief. Dr. (Scott) Steiger has worked with me a lot, especially through the Lake Effect Storm Prediction and Research Center. All four of the professors in the department do a great job of supporting us.

Can you tell us about your work for the lake-effect center?

There's no office for it. It's all run through students. Our department forecasts for New York State Department of Transportation and two nearby school districts. The other student co-director, Zach Butler, and I work together overseeing all the forecasters -- 13 to 17 student volunteers. We forecast two to four times a day every single day -- holidays, vacations -- Nov. 1 to April 30. It's a really great experience. I've gotten to meet a few DOT officials and we discussed how they use our forecasts and how we can improve. It's really amazing to hear how much they actually use our forecasts. This winter, we got to ride on snowplows to see what they do. It's a unique experience, given our lake-effect snow, you won't get anywhere else in the country.

What's your role as president of the Meteorology Club?

A lot of my focus has been on professional development. We have our own professional conference here, the Great Lakes Atmospheric Science Symposium. We have students and professors and NWS employees -- about a hundred of us get together in the fall and present some of our research and build relationships with other schools and organizations. This year, we had about a dozen students attending the American Meteorological Society national meeting in Austin the second week of January. There were a few thousand students and professionals in the field there. In two weeks, 25 of us are going to a smaller Northeastern Storms Conference in Vermont. We (club members) also do a lot of resume workshops. We’ve had some unique opportunities, so I want to pass that down to the underclassmen. One of our most fun activities is to go to Dr. (Al) Stamm's house in Minetto and pick apples and make apple cider.

And you are on the golf team?

I am. It's kind of a funny story. I wasn't the greatest golfer in high school. When I went to college here, I had no idea there was a golf team. (Laughs.) Over the summer after my freshman year, I dug into it and realized there is a team and I figured, "Why don't I try out?" I'm grateful Coach (Mike) Howard decided to keep me around for three years. We've performed well pretty much any tourney we go to. I've been on a few invitational-winning teams. We all contribute and all support each other. 

What do you like to do in your down time?

Usually it's trying to unwind, spend some quality time with friends I care about. I do play video games, intramurals. I try to keep busy -- I don't like having down time. A lot of my free time, I'm trying to explore ways to help out. I mostly hang out here (in one of the meteorology labs) between classes doing my own work, and when any underclassmen have questions or need help with their homework, I just try to help.

Does your last name get mispronounced?

Hiris rhymes with "iris." One of my favorite stories: Back when I was probably 6 or 7, we booked a hotel room up in Michigan. When we showed up, they didn't have our reservation, because they had spelled our name so incorrectly they didn't believe it was actually us. (Laughs.) I get the name mispronounced all the time -- it's part of life now.

What can you tell us about your family?

Growing up, it's just been me and my mom -- single parent, no siblings. I have to give her almost all the credit for where I am now (as a student and a person). I'm the one who left to go seven and a half  hours from home, but she's the one still giving the support. She's always encouraged me to follow my dreams and to try to reach out and help other people.