Firefighters of the U.S. Forest Service work tirelessly at a job few people are willing to try. Hobart basketball’s Luke Ruddy spent this past summer in Missoula, Mont., as an intern for the National Weather Service in their fire lab, working to make their job a little safer. His internship was in association with Ruddy being a recipient of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hollings Scholarship.
Ruddy, who is pursuing a degree in geoscience with minors in biology and math, is also a captain of the Hobart basketball team. Like wildland firefighters, Ruddy does the blue collar work on the basketball court that is largely unheralded. The 6-foot-5, 210 pound forward plays tough defense in the low block despite being undersized for his position. He has appeared in all 81 games during his Hobart career, averaging 5.7 ppg and 4.1 rpg.
The team’s lone senior this season, Ruddy was quick to make an impact on the court for the Statesmen. He played in all 26 games as a first-year, averaging 4.8 points per game. He was named to the Liberty League All-Rookie Team and was also honored as the Liberty League Rookie of the Week three times in a span of four weeks.
Ruddy averaged 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds his sophomore year, and 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds this past year. He has been named an Arnold Scholar-Athlete and a member of the Liberty League All-Academic Team each of the past two seasons.
In the fire lab this summer, Ruddy was assigned to work on a weather model for the National Weather Service. The model is called the High Resolution Rapid Refresh Model (HRRR), and it is one of the most commonly used weather models throughout the country.
Ruddy’s primary objective was to test the HRRR to look for sudden wind shifts, a major problem for firefighters combating wildfires in Montana. Ruddy and his team looked through several cases to test the model’s performance over an extensive period of time, hoping to find enough consistency to confidently rely solely on the model going forward.
“With all the wildfires out there, the biggest problems that firefighters face is getting caught off guard by sudden changes in wind direction and wind speed.” Ruddy said. “If they aren’t forecasted and the firefighters don’t know they are coming, that is how injuries and fatalities happen. So my goal was to see how accurate that model was to determine if firefighters could depend on the model fully.”
Over the course of several tests and examinations, Ruddy and his team found there are still some improvements that need to be made to the model before it can be fully depended on.
“Overall, there were a couple cases in which the model was spot on, meaning that if a fire was going on the firefighters would have been prepared for it,” Ruddy explained. “But, there were a couple of instances in which the model completely missed the wind shift coming through, the firefighters would have been told not to worry about any changes coming as a result of wind shift, and they would then be completely caught off guard.”
Although Ruddy does not believe that firefighters will ever be able to completely depend on one weather model exclusively, he does think that over time, as technology continues to improve and more data is incorporated, the HRRR will improve and eventually become a strong, reliable tool in the fight against wildfires.
When he wasn’t working in the lab, he said he would often go out and experience the city or go hiking in the mountains. “Missoula was really cool,” he explained. “Most of the time I was hiking. There are mountains everywhere. I also had friends and family come visit, and we got to go hangout in the city, which is just completely different from home [Seneca Falls, N.Y.].”
Ruddy is still contemplating his future career path. If he opts for meteorology, then he would be very interested in returning to work for the National Weather Service. He’s also considering a career in the military.
For the time being, however, Ruddy is focused on his studies and the start of Liberty League play. The Statesmen, who were voted the preseason favorite in the conference, start league play at Union at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 1.