Crestwood students fundraise for and use computerized weather forecasting equipment

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Dearborn Heights Crestwood High School seniors Hussein Makki (left), Mohamad Ankouny, Ahmad Awada, and junior Tariq Mekkaour, use the WeatherBug Station web-based educational software tools to correlate weather data with output from other science project measurement collection.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS – Whether detecting approaching storms during outdoor sporting events or gathering science project data, Crestwood High School Advanced Placement Environmental Science students have discovered that there is an app for that.

From a WeatherBug weather station mounted on the school roof, a free WeatherBug cell phone application receives data 24 hours a day and can send alerts directly to cell phones.

Advanced warning of lightning and approaching severe weather enhances the safety of students at sporting events and other outdoor activities and helps students learn more about meteorology.

The WeatherBug Station at Crestwood also provides data to nationwide tracking stations, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and local news outlets. The design of the WeatherBug Schools Program helps teachers apply real-world conditions to teach skills and concepts in math, science and geography.

For more information on the program, go to www.weatherbugschools.com.

Crestwood’s station, which cost about $17,000, includes a high definition camera, lightning sensor and web-based educational software tools. The school’s National Honor Society and science club used fundraising and matching funds from the Crestwood School District central office staff to purchase the station.

At a late September cross-country invitational meet, senior Ahmad Awada, an APES alumnus and NHS president, said he had his coach download the weather warning application.

“We were afraid that lightning and a thunderstorm was going to happen,” Awada said. “But I had the coach download it on his phone and he timed the races so we could get out before the storm happened.”

APES teacher Diana Johns said the application sends a warning to a cell phone when severe weather is approaching.

“On this app it will actually tell you when to take cover,” Johns said. “It’s so far away, it’s moving this fast, take cover now. So there’s the safety aspect, which is phenomenal, because we obviously don’t want any students to be injured. But then the educational aspect is just like the best of all worlds.”

Johns said there is a tremendous potential for data collection with the system.
“Today, it’s not so much about memorization of facts anymore as it is seeing trends and being able to interpret large amounts of data,” she said. “So with this data set we can do lots of different things from an educational perspective.”

She said with Crestwood being a Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment school students needed a way to take weather measurements on weekends and during school vacation periods.

The GLOBE program is a worldwide hands-on, primary- and secondary school-based science and education program. For more information, go to www.globe.gov.

“This allows us to have 24-hour-a-day measurements,” Johns said, “so when the kids do some of their analysis of data for some of the research projects that they are doing, we can just go into the archives and pull it and it is specific to our site.”

Junior Tariq Mekkaour, who has earned the nickname “Batman” from his classmates because of his interest in bats, goes out at night to gather data with a wildlife acoustic echo meter for his bat echolocation data collection. He accesses temperature data, wind patterns and wind direction collected locally on WeatherBug, which he said helps him tremendously correlate his data for his independent science project.

Johns said students access data through their computers at school, home and cell phones. A live camera also broadcasts a feed from the school’s athletic practice field.

She said school officials permit student cell phone use in the school as long as they comply with each teacher’s specific rules, like putting them away during a test.

“It’s like having a computer in your pocket, as long as they are using them for good and not for evil,” Johns said. “If I say, ‘Look this up,’ they are all ‘zsu-zsu-zsu’ and they all look it up and it is easier than getting the computers out.”

Senior Hussein Makki and Awada wish they’d had access to the application last year at high school graduation time, when they and other NHS students were setting up chairs outdoors for commencement when they say it suddenly got dark and stormed. Because they did not know the storm was coming, they had to stay until 10 p.m. drying the chairs for the graduation ceremony.

Johns said the WeatherBug Station data archives also help students studying black carbon or soot exposure at local bus stops and from outdoor charcoal grills, since they can correlate soot data with onsite weather measurements. She said the fine particles from black carbon, which accumulate in lungs, put people at a higher risk for asthma and emphysema.

Johns said weather data also has practical use in classrooms as part of the curriculum.

“A lot of times in class, teachers will use this canned data that they get off of the Internet or another lab, but our kids can actually do everything in real time,” Johns said. “They just take out their phones, get the data, and then they can go out and take real-time measurements to prove whether or not that’s a correct reading.”

She said some students are correlating local weather data along with readings from a GLOBE sun photometer, which is an indirect way to study aerosols in the atmosphere, and which has an impact on climate change.

“Weather is what is happening right now,” Johns said, “but climate is 35 years plus of data, so we are trying to create data sets so that kids can correlate things with what’s happening right now, but then as we accumulate more longitudinal data it means something.”

Johns said the hydrology measurements that Crestwood students have been doing with Friends of the Rouge for 27 years are a good example because they allow students to see what parameters have changed over time.

“A lot of people enjoy their time more when they are actually doing it themselves than just reading off a book,” Makki said. “They find it more interesting.”

Mekkaour said fieldwork reinforces and teaches concepts to him when he applies them in a hands-on learning environment, like sampling water from the Rouge.

“You really do get motivated,” Mekkaour said, “not only in the classroom, but in everything you do.”