Rooftop weather station and meteorology club expose students to weather forecasting

Photo by Sue Suchyta Advanced Technology Academy Middle School Meteorology Club members Andrea Villafan (left), 12, and Christina Hall, 12, of Detroit; teacher Karen Vack of Flat Rock; Jesus Sanchez, 12, of Detroit; teacher Jordan Creekmore of Plymouth; and Derrick Hardy, 13, of Detroit, use homemade hydrometers, and computer data generated from the school’s rooftop weather station, to learn about weather forecasting.

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Advanced Technology Academy Middle School Meteorology Club members Andrea Villafan (left), 12, and Christina Hall, 12, of Detroit; teacher Karen Vack of Flat Rock; Jesus Sanchez, 12, of Detroit; teacher Jordan Creekmore of Plymouth; and Derrick Hardy, 13, of Detroit, use homemade hydrometers, and computer data generated from the school’s rooftop weather station, to learn about weather forecasting.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – The rooftop weather station at Advanced Technology Academy exceeded student expectations Feb. 23 when school officials, accessing the onsite weather data remotely, confirmed subzero temperatures and justified canceling school.

ATA, a K-12 school chartered by Lake Superior State University, features the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies.

PAS is an academically challenging curriculum and program that prepares students for success in college and the adult workforce.’

The weather station gives school administrators the ability to access the school’s onsite weather station data from any web-based computer, so they may use it to make decisions based on real-time weather conditions, said Steve Quinlan, ATA director of institutional advancement.

“We use it in terms of assessing the need to cancel school, based on either cold weather or snowfall,” Quinlan said. “So our administration looks at the weather station, can dial into it for real time data. This is a good indicator for them whether we should cancel or not cancel.”

Officials at the Ford Motor Co. Fund asked ATA staff last summer if they were interested in applying for a project grant that would benefit the school, Quinlan said.

Quinlan applied for a weather station mini-grant, received $2,080 in funding, ordered the equipment, and assembled the equipment with help from Ford employees.

While grant approval occurred in July 2014, Ford fund officials ceremonially awarded the grant on Sept. 11 to commemorate those lost during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to establish the anniversary as a day of service.

From Sept.12 to Dec. 15, ATA staff programmed the equipment, enabled it on the Web, installed it on the school roof and assessed its functionality.

After demonstrating the weather station’s capabilities to ATA students, middle school teachers Karen Vack of Flat Rock and Jordan Creeekmore of Plymouth formed a meteorology club.

The weather station’s three dedicated wireless computer consoles let students gather weather data without going outside, and track data year-round.

The consoles store and graph weather data, and allow students to visualize weather data trends.  Computers not captive to the weather station can also store and graphically display the data.

Vack’s students used homemade hydrometers Feb. 24 to measure the humidity inside and outside the school, and compared their data to the school’s weather station readings.

With weather reports easily available to students on their electronic devices, Vack said understanding the science behind it helps students understand how meteorologists forecast weather.

“If you understand the background of it, and you understand where you get some of these things, and how they might work,” Vack said, “you have a better understanding overall of how to predict your weather in the future. These future meteorologists will be able to understand what’s here.”

Jesus Sanchez, 12, of Detroit, sees himself as future meteorologist.

“I’m really interested in weather and I want to learn how to predict it,” Sanchez said. “I like how the clouds form. It is just weird and amazing at the same time.”

Sanchez said he and other aspiring student meteorologists made barometers and thermometers, which help students understand the science behind weather forecasting.

Christina Hall, 12, of Detroit said she joined the meteorology club because she is good at science, and she thinks it is interesting to learn something like weather prediction that few of her peers understand.

Weather channels on television sparked an interest in weather forecasting in Derrick Hardy, 13, of Detroit.  He said he would like to be able to look at the sky and understand more about impending weather than the average person.

Hardy said he also likes making weather-measuring instruments, and hopes someday to be able to travel to storms to take measurements right at the source of the meteorological action.

Andrea Villafan, 12, of Detroit said he she likes learning about the weather and the conditions that precede changes in temperature, adding that she is eager for warmer temperatures to return.

“We do many experiments to predict the weather and temperature,” Villafan said. “The equipment that we make is usually to predict the weather, so sometimes we use it to predict the temperature, and sometimes the temperature can tell us how the next day will be, and how cold it will be.”

Villafan said studying weather is interesting.

“It is very fun, and we do a bunch of experiments,” Villafan said.

Vack said she likes that the weather station, which measures wind speed and direction, rainfall, barometric pressure, ultra-violet rays, solar radiation, temperature, sunrise, and sunset lets students see the raw data that typically only forecasters get to see.

“You know what? We are looking at these graphs, and it is really nice,” Vack said. “The kids get to see what the meteorologists get to see. Most schools do not have their own weather station.”

Knowing the background and scientific explanations for weather forecasting provide students with lasting knowledge, Vack said.

“In this case, hopefully they will know things for their life that they can pass on to their children,” Vack said. “And maybe, if they are interested in it, they can go beyond and be a meteorologist. It gives them an opportunity to see if this is a profession they would like.