METEOROLOGIST IN CHARGE MASE AKAPO RECOGNIZED FOR 40-YEARS OF SERVICE
He is probably the most famous non-politician, non-celebrity in American Samoa or the entire South Pacific, for that matter, but he is truly an icon to his people, dependable and trustworthy, reliable with impeccable integrity.
High Talking Chief Mase, titled matai of Vaitogi, Meteorologist In Charge, (MIC) Akapo Akapo Jr. was recognized in a special ceremony by his professional peers, Laura Kong, Ph.D., Director of the International Tsunami Information Center, ITIC NOAA, on Friday, June 21, for forty years of service in the U.S. Government’s National Weather Service (NWS), National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) of the US Department of Commerce.
A very private man with low fanfare, MIC Akapo’s 40-years of service actually were acquired in March of this year. Three months later officials of the federal government wanted to recognize this great accomplishment, especially for a native American Samoan.
Leading the local federal government NOAA office, the Pago Pago Weather Service has been under MIC Akapo’s watch for the past 22 years, as a Warning and Preparedness Meteorologist and Meteorologist in Charge.
With a staff of all Samoan residents, the local Weather Service boasts one of the very few federal government offices in the entire U.S. completely functional with native folks possessing professional and technical knowledge of the weather and all that it entails. This has been one of the major goals of MIC Akapo — to employ highly qualified native Samoans to man the Weather Station for the territory.
Trained for many years in the state of Hawai’i and Alaska’s National Weather Service Offices, Mase Akapo began his career here in American Samoa in 1973, after a short stint with the Department of Education as a high school teacher at Samoana and Leone High Schools. Akapo transferred to the Forecast Office in Honolulu in 1975 and began studying meteorology at the University of Hawaii from 1976-1978.
A graduate of the first graduating class of Leone High School, 1965-66, he began working in the local Weather Station in 1973. (At the time, he worked with Emani Lelafu, who is also a long-time employee of NWS and will celebrate his 40-years in September.)
Upon completion of his meteorological studies in Honolulu, he ventured to get experience and knowledge in his field by accepting a position with NWS in Alaska. With his wife Tinei and their eldest son, the late Osema Akapo, they moved to Valdez and Anchorage, and later to Juneau and remained there until 1991, when an opening in the local office occurred, at the present location in Tafuna.
With a long career in meteorology and the Weather Service, MIC Akapo has become a fixture in the household of every Samoan family for over two decades now, the public often hanging on his every word, relative to every natural disaster in the territory and neighboring islands.
The most notables were Hurricane Val in 1991, when the NWS Pago Pago received the DOC, NOAA, NWS Silver Medal for ignoring Nandi and Honolulu’s forecasts of moving Tropical Cyclone Val away from American Samoa, while Akapo forecast “Val” to move directly over American Samoa — and the rest is history.
The NWS Pago Pago and Akapo were again honored by NOAA-NWS with the Bronze Medal in 2007 for their actions in predicting Tropical Cyclone Heta in 2004 and Olaf in 2005.
MIC Akapo, despite difficulty and lack of equipment and data was able to issue a verbal Tsunami Warning minutes before the arrival of the first wave of the Tsunami of September 29, 2009, that claimed 34 lives. The verbal warnings as we now learned from ASDHS/TEMCO contributed to the evacuation of the schools at Cape Matatula and Poloa, just seconds before the two schools were totally destroyed.
Akapo aspires to see more young Samoans interested in the field of Meteorology and Weather. Presently senior meteorologist Carol Ma’afala- Baqui is joined by Salu Hans Malala and newly hired Elinor Lutu-McMoore, all graduates of UH Manoa with degrees in Meteorology.
Samoana High School Valedictorian of 2012, Ioasa Tu’u is an intern in the local office for the summer, before returning for his second year of meteorological studies, also at the University of Hawai’i. Tu’u and others were highly recommended by MIC Akapo for the UH program.
Meteorological technicians who help assist the forecasters/meteorologists, are local residents, two of whom completed their service in the US military and were hired in the local weather office. They are Simona Mane Taufu’a (US Coast Guard) and Natiaifatualavai Roy Laulusa (US Army), who retired from NWS after 20-yrs of service a week ago; the other two are Samuelu Puletasi, Jr. former instructor at Nu’uuli VocTech High School and Sina Solomona-Tilo (a returning resident).
MIC Akapo has often shared, when school children visit the local Weather Office on field trips or special school projects, noting that this is an area of study that is highly sophisticated and requires total commitment to learn. A detailed knowledge of the earth’s natural weather elements along with an excellent command of science and mathematics is required. It is not impossible for the new generation of young people of the territory to achieve a career in meteorology, working under the auspices of the federal government can be most rewarding and fulfilling, to help save lives and contribute to the well-being of the community.