The fascination has never waned. He became enamored of the small, closely-knit community of meteorologists — “I always thought there was something special about them” — and as an undergraduate at Penn State he worked for the campus weather service and then received his master’s in meteorology from the University of Miami.
Now a tropical meteorologist and hurricane forecaster at ImpactWeather, a private weather forecasting company in Houston, he believes he began his job training 20 years ago, on August 24.
Matthew Shpiner preaches the gospel of preparedness, something he first learned 20 year ago, courtesy of Andrew.
He was 6 at the time but remembers how his parents rushed back from vacation, collected the outdoor furniture, shuttered their windows and made sure they had plenty of water and supplies. A neighbor, on the other hand, sat in a lawn chair, pretending Hurricane Andrew would be a mere nuisance, one more miss. It wasn’t, of course. Shpiner’s house survived the battering relatively well, but some of their neighbors’ homes didn’t.
When the hurricane had passed, Shpiner and his family climbed out a side door. The screened patio “looked like Superman had used it as personal erector set.” The silence was eerie. “It was super quiet. You couldn’t hear a bird chirp or a car running. Nothing.”
Today Shpiner is the emergency preparedness manager at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key.
“The lifelong lesson of Andrew for me was the value and importance of preparedness,” he says.
Shpiner, like so many kids his age, was fascinated with the National Guard that came through his neighborhood. As a teen, he would join the Police Explorers. In college at UM, he and a friend founded a campus chapter of a disaster preparedness program.. As a graduate student at Northeastern University, he helped work on an evacuation plan for Boston’s Logan Airport, followed by an internship with Miami-Dade’s Department of Emergency Management.
The recurring theme: “You want the community to return to some semblance of normal as quickly as possible, and to be able to do that you have to prepare for everything before something happens,” he says.
Working for UM, one of the area’s largest employers, has made him even more aware of how critical personal preparation can be.
“I’m not telling people to do this because I read it in a book,” he says. “I’m telling them because I lived through it.”
Miami Herald reporter Curtis Morgan contributed to this report.