HWS Hosts Doppler-on-Wheels Project – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

HWS Hosts Doppler-on-Wheels Project

Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) the Geoscience Department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges conducted an extensive education and outreach project this winter that aimed to give students and the public a deeper understanding of atmospheric science, severe weather and weather radar systems.

For the project, Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nicholas Metz managed a team of 75 students who are involved in a combination of fieldwork and coursework, immersing themselves in the study of meteorology, and participating in outreach events across the state. Laird, Metz and the student team operated a Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW) mobile radar system as a central part of the project until Sunday, March 8.

The DOW mobile radar is a national meteorological observing facility managed and operated by the Center for Severe Weather Research. It has been used to collect measurements of tornadoes, hurricanes, lake-effect snowstorms and other types of severe weather across the United States and also has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers” reality series.

“We are very fortunate to have received this grant and opportunity from the National Science Foundation,” Laird says. “These grants bringing the DOW mobile radar to college and university campuses that are not able to afford and maintain this type of measurement system. We are excited to have the DOW radar back to HWS for a second time and provide our students an outstanding hands-on educational experience.”

With the DOW’s arrival at HWS, several events were held throughout the duration of the project, including two high school visits, a stop at the WROC-TV station in Rochester, events at both Ithaca’s Sciencenter and the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC), and attendance at a conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The DOW team visited the WROC-TV station visit on Monday, March 2, as special guests of meteorologist Scott Hetsko for a live broadcast.

The first event took place on Feb. 20, with Laird featured as the guest speaker of the Provost’s Friday Faculty Lunch, which was held in the Common Room of the Scandling Campus Center. Laird discussed the lake-effect snow field project conducted last winter, as well as details about the DOW radar system. In addition, the DOW mobile facility was parked in front of Scandling from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. that day.

The complete schedule of events is as follows:


  • Friday, Feb. 20 – Special DOW presentation at the Provost’s Friday Faculty Lunch with the DOW available for viewing in front of the Scandling Campus Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Feb. 22 – The team visited the Sciencenter in Ithaca for a public outreach event with the DOW. The event will took place from 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 25 – The team and students taking GEO 182, “Introduction to Meteorology,” hosted a second on-campus outreach event with the DOW. The event took place from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Pulteney Street. A weather balloon was launched at 1:25 p.m.
  • Friday, Feb. 27 – The DOW team visited Midlakes High School of the Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District for an outreach event. The visit took place from 9 to 11:30 a.m.
  • Saturday, Feb. 28 – An outreach event took place at the Rochester Museum and Science Center from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Monday, March 2 – The team was the special guest of meteorologist Scott Hetsko for a live broadcast from the WROC-TV station in Rochester. They were on location with the DOW from 4 to 7 p.m. A dedicated DOW engineer/operated from the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colo., was also be on site. Weather balloons were also available for launch.
  • Friday, March 6 – An outreach event with the DOW was hosted at the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School from 9 a.m. to noon.
  • Saturday, March 7 – There was a DOW outreach event featuring the team at the 40th annual Northeastern Storm Conference in Saratoga Spring, N.Y. The program with the DOW was held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Holiday Inn where the conference is being hosted. Six to eight students presented at the conference, discussing their own atmospheric research.

The participating HWS students were also trained on how to operate the DOW. They joined in on hour-long training sessions. Over 40 students participated from GEO 182, “Introduction to Meteorology,” GEO 260, “Weather Analysis,” GEO 262, “Polar Meteorology,” and GEO 355 “Mesoscale & Severe Weather.”

In addition to the outreach projects, the DOW was made available during certain weather events passing through the area. It was stationed at one of two sites outside of Geneva in order to collect data. For the storm events, the team also hoped to launch weather balloons to collect additional data to complement the radar data.

“Educational outreach is a large portion of the grant and is seen as very important by the National Science Foundation,” Laird says. “We are excited to work with the DOW mobile radar to bring more understanding of meteorology to students, teachers, and the general public across New York State.”

Laird and Metz had obtained a NSF grant in 2013 to bring the DOW mobile radar to HWS for two weeks. During that experience students used the radar to observe lake-effect snow bands over Lake Ontario and several other weather systems, such as the passage of a strong cold front with transition from rain to snow. Students also participated in several public outreach events.

While the DOW radar was at HWS, students conducted a variety of activities with the radar, including the planning and deployment of the radar system, collection and analysis of data, and participating in several outreach events. The outreach events offered grade school and high school students, teachers, and the general public across New York State the opportunity to tour the DOW mobile radar, learn about different types of severe weather, and find out about careers in meteorology.

At HWS, the Geoscience Department provides an outstanding framework for students to advance their knowledge of atmospheric science, hydrology, and geology. Students develop essential scientific skills in a strong liberal arts environment and prepare for a variety of careers. Geoscience students can self-design a program of study and often are engaged in research projects and grant-funded fieldwork. The department is comprised of distinguished faculty who are engaged in their teaching and research with students while excelling as contributors to their respective scientific fields.