Students Research Severe Weather – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Research Severe Weather

Whether atop New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, traveling throughout the Northeast, or in the Weather and Climate lab at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, student-meteorologists were busy this summer conducting research. As part of the Undergraduate Summer Research Program, Geoscience faculty Nick Metz and Neil Laird worked with students — from HWS and other institutions — on a number of projects related to winter weather.

Since 1987, students have benefited from the mentorship of HWS faculty, expert scientists and educators through the Undergraduate Summer Research Program, in which students experience the rigors and joys of research in the sciences and social sciences by performing lab and/or field work to develop skills that will be vital to their future careers. This summer eight undergraduate students worked in the Weather and Climate research lab with Metz, an assistant professor, and Laird, an associate professor.

“The Summer Research Program is a huge feather in the cap of the Colleges and one of the reasons why I was excited to join the faculty at HWS,” says Metz, who joined HWS in 2011. “It’s a unique experience to have so many undergraduates conducting original research and working so closely with faculty mentors.”

The Summer Research Program encourages collaboration among scientists from HWS and other institutions. Laird, Metz and their students worked with scientists from several universities, such as Plymouth State University, The University of Illinois, The University at Albany, and Penn State University. With the large group of student-meteorologists, Laird and Metz paired students together to pursue individual research questions under the umbrella of a larger project.

“The nature of science is collaborative work,” says Laird. “Communicating, getting feedback as you’re conducting research is a powerful tool — it’s a way of strengthening your work, and we try to introduce that in students.”

Working with Laird and Metz using a 17-year database of satellite images, Lauriana Gaudet, a rising sophomore at Lyndon State College in Vermont, and Colton Grasmick, a rising senior at the University of Northern Colorado, examined the climatology of lake effect snow in the Great Lakes region in projects Laird says “are on the level of graduate studies.”

Macy Howarth ’15 — a geoscience major at HWS concentrating in atmospheric sciences, with minors in environmental studies and mathematics – joined the research group for a second summer. She previously worked with Metz, studying severe thunderstorms that crossed Lake Michigan, earning a Goldwater Scholarship for the thunderstorm research.

This summer, Howarth, who also earned an NOAA Hollings Scholarship earlier this year, worked with Laird and Michael Brackett, a North Carolina State University student, to create a Wind Chill Climatology for North America, “which has never been done before,” Howarth says. “The goal of this project is to understand how wind chill temperatures are changing for different regions and different time periods. We can then use these results to examine why some regions are experiencing large changes and some regions are not seeing changes of wind chill temperatures across decades.”

“I love piecing together the puzzle and discovering new things,” Howarth says. “I enjoy what I research because it has direct impacts on forecast offices and the general public, which has increased my interest in community outreach and emergency management as additional possible careers.”

In the Weather and Climate lab in Lansing Hall, Shay Callahan ’17 and geoscience major Elliot Morrill ’15 examined shortwave troughs — disturbances in the mid or upper part of the atmosphere — and their impact on lake-effect snow east of Lake Ontario. This summer under Metz’s mentorship, Callahan and Morrill, explored radar and weather data, along with various atmospheric computer models, to develop a complete picture of these systems.

Matt Sanders ’17, who is also working on lake-effect snowstorms with Metz, says that using radar data to determine intensity, duration, location and other features of the snow bands can shed light on how these storms come to produce snow in unexpected locations.

“A large portion of lake-effect snow happens after large cyclones move through the Great Lakes region, but little research has been done on the climatology of lake-effect events that precede these large cyclones,” says Sanders, a geoscience major with hopes of adding another major in chemistry and a minor in economics by the time he graduates. “This was my first opportunity to do research, so I learned a lot. The ultimate goal of my project was to closely research several noteworthy events that will be used to help formulate a National Science Foundation proposal to provide funding for continued research on the topic.”

The weather research group hit the road on several trips this summer to share their research and meet other atmospheric scientists. “We like to give students the opportunity to work with other scientists, to provide an outside perspective,” says Metz.

One of the trips was to the White Mountains. At the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire — where in April of 1934, the highest recorded wind speed of 231 miles per hour was observed — HWS students toured the research facility and experienced the severe wind the mountain is known for.

“While we were there we experienced 70 mile per hour winds and it was a struggle to stand,” says Metz, who sees trips like this as an opportunity for an exchange of ideas and growth within the scientific community.

At Plymouth State University, also in New Hampshire, HWS students attended and presented at a mini-symposium with PSU graduate students to discuss each other’s research.

Along with the trips around the Northeast and collaborating scientists visiting HWS, the students made great progress on their research projects by also spending many hours working in the lab. This work will ultimately serve as a launch pad for these students in their scientific careers as they develop their research, present at conferences and begin to publish in scientific journals.

“Nick and I are very encouraging and supportive of getting students to national and regional research conferences, and helping advance their work to a point where it can be published work in peer reviewed journals,” says Laird. “They’re doing unique, important, informative research, and developing the skills to be able to talk with scientists within and beyond their own discipline.”

In January 2015, Laird and Metz will accompany students to the American Meteorology Society Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., where many students will present the results of their research from this summer and join thousands of atmospheric scientists from around the world to discuss wide-ranging topics spanning both weather and climate.

In the photo above, student stand at the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire — where in April of 1934, the highest recorded wind speed of 231 miles per hour was observed.