This story was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of the UNO Magazine
Within hours of the storm that ripped through the Omaha area this past June, Rich Boone’s phones started ringing. The calls came pouring in as thousands of area residents were affected by the storm, many with structural and roofing damage.
That was the case for Platteview Senior High School in Sarpy County, where winds tore off 75 percent of the roof, allowing water to rush into the building, heavily damaging the school’s gym floor.
Boone’s company, Boone Brothers Roofing, was called in to start repairs. With the start of the new school year looming ahead, Boone called in extra workers to speed up the process.
"Not only do we feel fortunate enough to get some work, we feel obligated to help the school get back on track," says Boone, who graduated in 1996 from UNO.
Back in 2003, the tables were turned when similarly wicked winds had a different outcome for Boone’s company, which had just nearly completed roof construction for Papillion-La Vista South High School. "We had completed everything except a little bit of work, just minor stuff, and a tornado hit and blew off the roof and everything went with it," Boone says.
It left his company responsible for the damage since the job had yet to be turned over to the new owners. "So, that was a sad day," Boone says.
"In every way, weather is what we are all about," Boone says. It is a sentiment felt by numerous other worker populations impacted by climate variations.
Numerous other UNO alumni spend their livelihoods dependent—to one degree or another—on the weather. Following is a look at some of those alumni from across the country.
Ground Maintenance and Landscape, SMG Landscapes
Shane Goetsch always thought it would be exciting to fly planes in Alaska, so after graduating from UNO in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in business management and a minor in aviation management, Goetsch decided to try a year in Alaska flying planes.
Twenty years later and Goetsch is still living in Alaska, having had a career both as a pilot and now managing his own landscape company, SMG Landscapes. In each instance, weather has played a key role.
"In Alaska, everything that’s in your house, I mean everything, has to be flown in," Goetsch says. "We're talking soda pop, diapers, 2x4s, the wire, siding, everything you might need down to the kitchen sink has to be flown in or barged in to these little villages."
Weather delays by just a day or two can result in the interruption of delivering goods to customers and make the difference between having fresh or rotten food.
On the landscaping side, the almost guaranteed 70-plus inches of snow each winter helps maintain a steady source of income for the company’s snow removal services. And the long summer daylight hours help with lawn and landscape maintenance.
"When we first started up, it wouldn't be uncommon to be mowing a commercial property at 11:00 at night to keep things going," Goetsch says.
The comfortable temperatures also make for good working conditions. "In the summertime, if it’s 70 degrees out we're thinking it’s a really nice day. If it hits 75 degrees, everyone’s complaining that it’s too hot!"
Farmer/Restaurant Business, Lakehouse Farm
For Jerry Cornett, weather has been a big part of his career since graduating from UNO with a bachelor’s degree in 1990 in political science.
After graduating, he joined the Navy and spent 21 years traveling the globe, with 15 of those years spent as a helicopter pilot while also teaching classes on weather for instrument flying.
"As a helicopter pilot, you don't have the option of flying over the weather, so thunderstorms, squall lines, fog can all spell big trouble for a helicopter. So from day one, you are focused on the weather," Cornett says.
Having been inspired by eating at countryside, farm-to-table restaurants in northern Italy while in the Navy, Cornett decided to try to recreate the same atmosphere in Nebraska. After retiring in 2011, he started a certified organic diversified produce farm in Waverly, Nebraska, and opened Prairie Plate Restaurant in 2014 with his wife Renee, who holds a culinary degree from Metropolitan Community College. The menu, which changes on a weekly basis, is inspired by the 45-50 varieties of fruits and vegetables they grow year-round on the farm.
Monitoring the weather has become the norm for Cornett, who checks the weather two to three times daily. A good rain, Cornett says, can be vital to a newly planted crop, or it can cause ripe berries to rot or melons to explode. Even with the best planning, sometimes the weather is unpredictable. "One year the peas were looking great and it was May 1 and it was a blizzard and there were ice pellets blowing sideways, which promptly killed the peas," Cornett says. "The greater fluctuations we have in climate, the greater the risk of doing this kind of stuff."
Even the seasonal operation of their restaurant (they are open April-December) is influenced by weather conditions.
"It’s not so much because we don't have more produce to offer," Cornett says "but due to the three-mile gravel road leading up to the restaurant that can be hazardous travel during snowstorms."
Water Resource Engineer, HDR
If Simone Rock had a crystal ball, her job might be a lot easier. Specializing in water resource engineering, Rock studies ground water, surface water, and snowpacks relative to historical records to try and predict water availability in the state of Nebraska. Her work helps minimize the effects of various extreme weather events, such as the ongoing difficulties from the drought of 2012.
"The drought of 2012 continues to be the most extreme drought we've had," Rock says. Rock, who earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 2008 from UNL while attending classes on the UNO campus, works with farmers to look at both long- and short-term forecasts to determine if they will accept a certain amount of money to not pump water each year to help minimize the effects of the drought. Those decisions can't wait until spring, Rock says, since farmers are buying seed in the fall, so she uses past data to help predict the upcoming year.
"Climate change is also a topic that is continually being brought up more and more by our clients," Rock says. "So we look at historical records … our analysis is only as good as the data we have. Are we going to have more severe droughts? Are we going to have more severe flooding? We are getting those questions asked by our clients."
In 2011, Rock helped assess the damage brought on by the Missouri River flood, examining signs of failure in the levees. Rock also uses past storm data to determine probable maximum storms to help determine dam and levee heights. The challenges remain in finding good data sources.
"We are kind of restricted to looking backward to predict future events."
Landscape Design, CM’s Custom Lawn and Landscape
What Chuck Monico started as a side job mowing lawns to earn some extra cash while in high school has flourished into a multifaceted lawn and landscape company that has expanded to around 50 employees and offers services in commercial and residential lawn services, irrigation, hardscape, as well as snow removal.
After graduating in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and working for a few years in public accounting, Monico turned back to his business full time in 1996. "It’s always very rewarding to be able to give our clients something they are going to enjoy," Monico says. For a company whose focus is on outdoor living, the weather plays a key factor in the daily operation of not only their projects, but budgeting and time management.
"It’s constantly having to juggle with Mother Nature," Monico says. "Sometimes she’s just not working with you. It happens frequently and you can only do so much planning." Monico points to the prediction of an ice storm this past spring that shut the city down but never materialized.
"The amount of preparation and the days and money that go into preparing for a storm like that, and then it doesn't happen … ."
The winter months can also be challenging. With seemingly less and less snow every year, Monico says, it’s hard to budget for revenue during the winter months. And while he will use any downtime to focus on extra training for employees and equipment maintenance, they are all happy to see the sun come out after a long winter.
"When winter goes away and there’s the first hint of 50- or 60- degree days, it will cause the phone to ring. Everyone is ready to go."
Oyster Harvesting, All American Oyster Co.
Bob Hohman remembers the first time he ever tried an oyster in the heart of New Orleans as a college student back during his days at what was then the University of Omaha.
He didn’t realize then the significant role oysters would play later in his life.
After graduating from the university in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Hohman was commissioned in the United States Air Force, where he spent 24 years, principally as a bomber pilot and rising to the rank of colonel. After retiring from the Air Force, Hohman became a contractor in acquisition logistics in Washington, D.C., for 23 years.
To keep busy after retiring from that, Hohman started an oyster business at his second home in the historic Baylor oyster grounds area of the lower Rappahannock River. Hohman currently sells around 6,000 oysters a week to wholesalers who distribute them across the country to the white table cloth crowd.
Weather plays a key role in Hohman’s success, who would like to sell upwards of 20,000 oysters per week.
"Oysters stop growing when the water gets down below 50 degrees, so there is a three- to four-month dormant period and eight- to nine-month growing season," Hohman says. "But you have to have oysters in a phase where you can continually provide a 3-inch product."
Hohman buys seed in quantities of millions, depending largely on the weather to receive a high return on the amount of seed he buys. The seeds, which start as a fraction of the size of a grain of rice, are cultivated through buckets of water and eventually put into mesh cages in the water surrounding the dock on his property. Too much rain on an oyster farm can reduce the salinity and slow the growth period and warmer water temperatures make it difficult for the oyster to breath, Hohman says. Cold weather and ice prove particularly challenging as harvesters have to wrestle the cages through ice. Tidal flow changes in the Chesapeake Bay have been known to cost oyster farmers the loss of their entire product because the oysters were exposed to the cold temperatures for too long.
"It’s quite a change and it has become a full-time job for me to raise oysters. But, my family is happy because it keeps me occupied and probably out of their hair."
Conservation/Land Use, Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist
Jason Andersen has always had a passion for land conservation and wildlife preservation. After earning his undergraduate degree in environmental studies at UNO, he graduated in the spring of 2015 with his master’s in biology. For the past two years he has worked as a Farm Bill Biologist with Pheasants Forever, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements.
"To me it’s about land stewardship and doing the right thing," Andersen says. "Often we have this idea that we are here to use the earth as a resource, but I feel like we need to conserve and be stewards of the land and take care of things. And that not only includes water quality and soil, but also the animals that share it with us."
Andersen’s efforts include working with farmers to try and convert as much land as possible into habitats for wildlife.
"We are losing species at a higher rate now than we ever have historically, most likely due to climate change," Andersen says. "We're in one of the largest extinction periods in the history of the planet. And it’s probably due to climate change because the species can't evolve quickly enough to keep up with the climate."
Andersen has seen first-hand the devastation that weather can bring while doing research at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge during the flood of 2011.
"It is kind of unheard of, historically," Andersen says. "Normally floods come up and then they go down so the water is only there for a very short amount of time. This was there for three months and it just had a terribly destructive impact on all the grasslands that were up there."
The area was converted to cottonwood woodlands in a short period of time and the grassland birds abandoned the area.
"There is only so much land. So we need grasslands, we need crops," Andersen says. The question, he says, is "how do you get those to work together under a system that is already under a lot of strain for climate and demand?"
Roofing, Boone Brothers Roofing
While other kids hung out at the pool, Rich Boone spent his childhood summers tooling around his dad’s warehouse, learning the roofing trade that started back with his grandfather. Boone, who graduated in 1996 from UNO with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, never really questioned what he would do with his life.
"My grandfather was a roofer, my dad was a roofer, my uncles and cousins were roofers, my brothers, and hence, me," Boone says.
Boone’s father, Lloyd, started the roofing company in 1958 with just a couple employees, quickly growing to a full-blown commercial roofing and sheet metal company with locations in Omaha, Kansas City, Leavenworth and Sioux City.
Over the years, Rich Boone has had a hand in every aspect of the company, from being a laborer, floorman, running the sheet metal department to now overseeing the company with his brother, Ron. "There’s basically two kinds of work," Boone says. "New construction and existing buildings." The weather challenges are much bigger, Boone says, while re-roofing an existing building as the building is open to the elements. It is a bigger undertaking to ensure the building will stay dry in the event of future weather events while they complete the project.
The weather also plays a part in the safety of his employees when dealing with temperature extremes. Boone Brothers employs a full-time safety director to monitor conditions such as extreme heat in the summer for his workers.
"We work year-round, but there are certain times of the year we can't work, mainly rain and snow. Weather is always a factor," Boone says.
This article appeared in the UNO Magazine - the flagship publication of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, for alumni, faculty, staff, students, donors and friends of UNO.
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