April 28, 2009
ATLANTA— Flying into the eye of a hurricane and hanging from the ceiling during a zero gravity airplane flight are just a few ways Nicole Mitchell has spent her free time while studying law at Georgia State University.
Mitchell has been a full-time meteorologist on the Weather Channel's “Your Weather Today” since 2004. She also works with the military as a weather officer for the Hurricane Hunters, a unit that flies into tropical weather to gather data to aid in the forecasting of tropical storms and hurricanes.
“I have sort of a crazy sense of adventure, so for me flying into hurricanes is fine,” Mitchell said. “As we're flying we've gotten hit by high winds, hail, lightning and tornadoes, so it's probably not for the faint of heart. But for a meteorologist that likes a little adventure it's a perfect job.”
The 34-year-old, who was born in Fargo, N.D. but raised in Minnesota, began her career in weather when she joined the Air National Guard after high school as a way to pay for college. While serving in the military and studying meteorology, she also obtained a degree in speech communications at the University of Minnesota.
“Both of my parents were in the military reserves and the guard and told me that they had a good program and that I should think about it,” Mitchell said. “Weather just sounded the most interesting. I like science and math so that was a good fit.”
Mitchell's military duties have solely focused on hurricanes since she transferred to the Air Force Reserves in 2003.
“We've flown into hurricanes and some winter storms too, but it's anything that's over water where we don't have a lot of data,” Mitchell said. “Some people think we fly over the storms, but we fly right inside. It's very important because we're able to collect data and see some of the highest winds there.”
John Moss, a part-time instructor in the College of Law, said Mitchell was a student who knew how to manage all of her responsibilities by planning ahead.
“By the time students get to the middle of their second year, they all have more going on than they ever thought that they would, but what makes her unique is being a full-time professional, plus a soldier, plus a student,” said Moss, who also served time in the military. “Maybe it was her military experience, but I just complimented her on her ability to juggle it all, because it was quite a juggling act.”
Some of Mitchell's most recent projects at the Weather Channel have included visiting Orlando's Sea World, Busch Gardens and Aquatica to relate weather to theme parks and animals, and the zero gravity flight in Atlanta. She says experiencing weightlessness during the zero gravity flight was a lot like flying into a hurricane.
“For me there are points in a hurricane flight where just for a couple of seconds the plane will kind of drop out from under you and you're still sitting there for those couple of seconds before your body catches up,” Mitchell said. “The bottom part is like one of those rides where you're plastered to the side where the gravity is on you. That hard force got a few people, but for me it was a piece of cake.”
Mitchell started her television career in Duluth, Minn., where she reported, produced and worked as an assignment editor. Between her television career and her military experience, she has visited every continent, including work in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.
“When I was working with Bosnia they were picking up bad guys in the middle of the night and they were really interested in cloud cover because if there were clear skies then people on the ground could see them and they were shooting at the planes,” Mitchell said.
But beyond all of her journeys, Mitchell said she still had a yearning to earn an advanced degree in either law or psychology. And although she's not sure where her Georgia State law degree will lead her, she's using her final courses to focus on environmental and juvenile law.
“I was raised in a household where we always did a lot of community service,” Mitchell said. “I've done everything from working at a women's shelter to homeless shelters, but I've always felt worst for the children because they haven't put themselves in those situations. I also figured that even if I didn't end up using law as a career, which really isn't my plan right now, there's a lot of ways that the law is applicable to your every day life.”