EAPS Alumnus Feature: Keith Kompoltowicz
Writer(s): Logan Judy
As the Chief Hydrologist at the Detroit District of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, EAPS alumnus Keith Kompoltowicz oversees water level forecasting on the Great Lakes. He’s been interviewed and quoted in hundreds of pieces in recent months, being the go-to expert on the Great Lakes as this year sees record high water levels. This stems, he says, from an accumulation of wet seasons over the past five to seven years.
“It’s the result of persistently wet weather, which you can see when you measure conditions such as rainfall, runoff, and evaporation,” he said. “This culminated this past year when we had a very heavy snow pack across the Great Lakes. Add heavy spring rainfall on top of that, and that pushed the water levels up very quickly, allowing several of the lakes to achieve new record highs.”
Kompoltowicz has been consulted by a variety of media sources, from NPR to The Chicago Tribune and many regional news sources in the areas surrounding the Great Lakes. For an expert in water level forecasting for the Great Lakes, it may come as a surprise that his career trajectory largely stems from a happenstance meeting at a career fair. Before meeting a representative from the United States Army Corps of Engineers, he had originally intended to go into broadcast meteorology.
“I just happened to attend a career fair where the Corps of Engineers was in attendance,” he said. “I asked if they needed anyone with a meteorology background and they said they did. At the time I thought it might be temporary, but the more and more I spent time working with them and on the Great Lakes and being from Michigan, the more I was fascinated by the work. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was the place for me.”
He emphasizes the need to learn not just the meteorology and hydrology skills required for the analysis itself, but the communication needed to put that into action. In his current position, Kompoltowicz is required to field many phone calls, answer many requests for interviews, and give several presentations, in an effort to educate the public and numerous other stakeholders on the impacts of the fluctuating water levels of the Great Lakes. He says this is a matter of being willing to learn, and also seeking out experienced professionals you can learn from.
“I spent a lot of time being mentored by great people,” he said. “A lot of what we do here isn’t pure meteorology, so it was a little bit of an adjustment. We use hydrology and even engineering principles that you pick up on the job. So it’s very important to establish relationships with mentors you can learn from.”
Kompoltowicz graduated from EAPS in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science.