Cruise

Q&A with Royal Caribbean’s chief meteorologist – yes, that’s a thing

If you, like us, didn’t realise a cruise ship meteorologist was a thing then boy have we got news for you.

When you think about it though, it makes a lot of sense – after all the weather can make or break a cruise. Sometimes literally, remember the Titanic?

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Not that that would ever happen on a modern day cruise. But still, cruise ship meteorologists play a crucial role in ensuring the safety, and well being of cruise passengers.

And we managed to track down a real life one! James Van Fleet is the chief meteorologist for Royal Carribean and has probably one of the coolest, most obscure jobs we know about. We caught up with Fleet to find out more about his role.

Travel Weekly: Your line of work seems very niche, what is an average day like for a cruise meteorologist?

James Van Fleet: This certainly is a unique job – the only one of its kind– and without sounding like a cliché, every day is different.

To give you an idea of what the past couple of months have looked like, I’ve been travelling around the world – Sydney, Shanghai, Hong Kong, – and meeting with the navigational teams of Royal Caribbean’s ships, monitoring the global forecast as I travel.

Building trusting relationships with the Captains and their teams on each ship is extremely important to me, so they can rely on me for advice when making any difficult decisions.

I’ve been doing this for 25 years and have seen some of the craziest weather you can imagine, from my years as a storm chaser and weatherman, but at the end of the day, it is the Captain’s call. I help them make the most informed decision possible to keep our guests safe and it seems to work incredibly well!

TW: What role do you play in minimising harm caused by or avoiding storms at sea?

JVF: I’m usually based in Miami, and am always looking for things that the computer models can’t sense  –  there’s only so much they can forecast and you still need a human to translate the data into a form my colleagues, the officers and our guests can easily understand.

With my guidance, the Captain and the team’s on the bridge can make the most informed decision possible when it comes to weather, and ensure our guests have the best holiday possible by avoiding the bad stuff.

TW: You’ve been a storm chaser and a weather man before your current position, those are some pretty impressive jobs. How did you get into your line of work?

JVF: I grew up in Tornado Alley in Oklahoma – so that’s where the penchant for storm chasing came in.

I also wanted to be in entertainment and so for me, excuse the pun, that created the perfect storm for my next step into a position as a TV weatherman for networks all over the US.

When this job with Royal Caribbean came up there was no way I could say no – it meant I could combine my love of broadcasting and meteorology with travel – this job is a million miles from broadcasting out of a windowless studio!

I’m a very lucky guy.

TW: What drew you to the cruise industry?

JVF: This job has given me the opportunity to not just broadcast the weather to thousands of ears, but to work closely with teams to influence decisions that are so vital.

I’m not just relaying information any more, I’m actively working with teams to make decisions that mean the difference between a good holiday and an amazing holiday!

It’s rewarding to be helping people like our crew and our guests in a different way.

TW: What is the most extreme weather you’ve experienced at sea?

JVF: If I’d had to deal with a whole lot of crazy weather while cruising I wouldn’t have been doing my job properly!

The beauty of cruising is we can sail out of hurricanes and cyclones – often the safest place you can be is out at sea, in calm waters.

During last year’s hurricanes, I was involved in rerouting ships which didn’t just escape the storm, but they aided in humanitarian relief efforts, including delivery of emergency supplies like water, ice, medical supplies, food and generators and evacuating people from affected areas where possible.

It was a devastating time, but rewarding to be able to give back to the communities that we love and are so loved by our guests when they needed us most.

TW: What was it like being a storm chaser? Did you often find yourself in life-threatening situations?

JVF: Experiencing the sheer force of nature close up really makes you feel small, and I got that a lot when I was tornado chasing – I really came to appreciate the power of mother nature from an early age.

In terms of crazy weather I‘ve experienced outside of this role, I once flew into the eye of a category 5 storm with the Hurricane Hunters, aircrews that fly into tropical cyclones to gather weather data.

I was able to sit in the “jump seat”, in prime position up front and it meant I was right in the thick of it. That’s the most terrified and also the most excited I’ve been in all my life. It was incredible.

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