While most people in the nation relied on local and national meteorologists to warn and inform them about Hurricane Sandy, students in Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird’s first-year seminar, “The Science and Communication of Weather,” had a unique perspective on how such weather events are predicted and what constitutes a “good” weather forecast.The students in Laird’s first-year seminar course are also part of a learning community that takes “Introduction to Meteorology” with Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nicholas Metz.
In the FSEM class, students have spent ample time discussing the science and communication of weather while in the intro class they have worked much more closely with the scientific background. Or as Laird and Metz call it “a meteorological one, two punch.”
“Our Geo182 class is very focused on the details and science of the interactions within our atmosphere, while in my FSEM we work on more writing-based projects,” explains Brooke Adams ’16, who hopes to become a meteorologist. She notes in addition to the readings and class exercises, students work on a weather photo project where they observe the weather and research what they observed.
“Both Metz and Laird are very passionate and knowledgeable about the topic of meteorology; their enthusiasm is contagious- which seems to be a running theme from all the meteorologists I have met,” says Adams.
Classmate Macy Howarth ’16 enjoys the practical aspect of the course. “It is interesting to see the real-world connection between what we are learning in class and the weather we experience every day. When Hurricane Sandy approached, we discussed her path and the possible destruction and impacts like every newscaster did, but we also discussed why she was taking the path she was, and what was stopping her from moving out to sea. It was nice to be able to tell my family at home in New Hampshire what they could expect, but also why.”
The Learning Community took two recent local trips to gain behind-the-scenes glimpses of how weather is predicted and reported. First, they traveled to WROC-TV in Rochester, N.Y., to meet with meteorologist Scott Hetsko. A week later, they visited the National Weather Service in Buffalo, N.Y.
“The trip to WROC was impressive,” says Metz, noting the station recently updated its studio to HD and he, Laird and students learned about Hetsko’s typical day and watched the 5 p.m. newscast.
“The meteorologist was very welcoming and excited about his job,” says Adams. “I thought it was awesome to see the broadcasting aspect of weather behind the scenes because it differs very much from the information we are presented in class. I realized that meteorology has many different faces. The weather presented on TV is a nice little weather forecast all wrapped up with a nice bow-easy for the general audience to watch and understand.”
In Buffalo, the students got to take part in the launch of a weather balloon. The National Weather Service launches weather balloons twice daily at almost 100 sites across the U.S., Caribbean, and Pacific to get a sense of atmospheric temperature, moisture and winds up to almost 20 miles high. Metz explains this information is vital to meteorologists making forecasts and to the complex weather models that are used to simulate weather into the future. Afterward, the students received an in-depth tour of the facility, complete with a discussion of “a day in the life” of a forecaster.
Students in the FSEM also recently participated in the annual learning community trip to Washington, D.C., where they visited the Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Science and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to further facilitate an understanding of the importance of meteorological studies. Exhibits at these two museums allowed the students to learn about science though hands-on activities, and showed them that meteorology is related to space exploration and the changing climate.
In total, the three trips taught the students a lot about not just meteorology, but also how the important scientific information they produce is disseminated to the public and how meteorology relates to a multitude of topics and jobs.
“I have really enjoyed both my FSEM and intro to meteorology. I have been better able to pick up on the daily weather based on my new knowledge of the topic. I have found myself looking at the sky more often to see if I can decipher what is going on, and most times the weather corresponds to at least one thing we have learned in class,” says Adams.