Exploring Winter Weather Trends – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Exploring Winter Weather Trends

As unusual weather patterns strike the nation this winter, Macy Howarth ’16 is investigating changes and trends in wind chill temperature. Howarth’s Honors thesis, “Climatology of Wind Chill Temperatures across North America,” condenses 30 years of data from more than 160 weather stations into a comprehensive analysis.

“Climate variability and change is a very hot topic right now in the atmospheric science community, and these findings are significant in that they show our winter weather is changing,” says Howarth, a geoscience major with a concentration in atmospheric sciences and minors in math and environmental studies.

Through her research, Howarth intends to expand on the work she conducted in the summer of 2014 under the guidance of Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird, her Honors adviser. For her summer research, Howarth worked with a student from North Carolina State University examining surface weather station data collected each hour for a 30-year time period to investigate extreme wind chill temperatures across continental North America. She explains that the research allowed her to explore spatial and temporal trends during the winter months from decade to decade.

“By examining trends in wind chill temperature, wind speed and temperature, we can observe changes in our winter weather that may be related to climate change,” explains Howarth. The goal of her Honors project is to examine the average distribution of wind chill temperatures across North America and how wind chill temperature may be changing over the last 30 years for different regions.

Having completed the bulk of her research and analysis, Howarth says the most challenging part of the project was working through such a large set of data and then deciding what analyses she would conduct. “It definitely took a lot of trial and error, as well as a thorough understanding of the data” she says.

Ultimately, Howarth hopes to transfer her Honors thesis into a scientific journal manuscript that can share her results with the atmospheric science community.

“It has been a great pleasure having Macy work with me on her Honors project,” Laird says. “Macy has an enthusiasm for academics and research that has been exciting to watch as she’s progressed and developed a passion for atmospheric science.”

Although still uncertain about her future career plans, Howarth says the experience of completing such an extensive research endeavor has helped prepare her for graduate school, which she plans to attend in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in atmospheric science.

On campus, Howarth is a resident assistant, a tour guide for Admissions, the president of the Geoscience Club, and serves on the William Smith Judicial Board. She also conducted research during the summer of 2013 at HWS, and in the summer of 2015 served as an intern with the National Weather Service Office of Communications. In the winter of 2013, she was one of nine HWS student researchers who worked on the National Science Foundation-funded Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems project under the guidance of Laird and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nicholas Metz.  

In 2014, Howarth was awarded the Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering, and was also named to the prestigious Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program.