USF screens the weather

Instead of watching the news to get the day’s weather forecast, students and staff can stop by the Natural and Environmental Science building to view it on the large television that displays real-time meteorology coverage.

New features have been added to the weather station on top of the Natural and Environmental Science (NES) building, which is located near the Chemistry and Life Sciences buildings. These features have made it possible for faculty member Julie Collins to run a Web site with real-time weather data and link that data to a plasma screen television displayed in the lobby of NES.

“We’ve included a link of the data from the weather station to the plasma screen, so that the data coming off the weather station is being displayed on the plasma screen so you can see temperature, wind direction and so on,” Collins said.

According to a recent article by USF science writer and Media Relations coordinator Randolph Fillmore, the rooftop station includes a battery-powered data and communication interface. Rain, wind and solar radiation are all gauged from the station, Fillmore said.

Collins said the weather station will help her analyze data, provide information to the public via the Web site and provide instant weather information for people who walk past the NES lobby. It has also helped her teach.

“Students in my class can get a good feel of the different types of equipment,” Collins said. “I can go up and show them the relative humidity and temperature sensor and the dipping bucket rain gauge.”

Collins also bought some new lab equipment with the money she received for the new weather features.

“The equipment in class has also really helped,” Collins said. “I think doing the experiments reinforces the class material that I’m presenting to (the students).”

Collins says she is looking for grant money to further improve the lab and get some more equipment for her students.

But the Web site and plasma screen television are not all that Collins has been doing to improve meteorology here at USF. She has also developed a field trip she calls the “meteorology flight,” in which meteorology students fly in a piper aircraft to collect temperature and pressure data as well as make atmospheric observations. On return to the classroom, the presentation states that students analyze the data to understand several concepts discussed in class such as “temperature inversions” and “atmospheric stability.”

Collins said the field trip, which was conducted last fall, will be offered again during the upcoming Summer A semester.

“I find that students do well when they participate in their own learning, and there is a lot of learning that goes on in this (field trip),” Collins said. “The students interact well with each other. They take these observations and look at others, and then back in the classroom they graph the data and analyze the stability of the atmosphere.”

Collins had to get contacts at the airport and check with USF’s legal office, as well as have students sign waivers. They flew out of Vandenberg Airport in Tampa.

“I made it an optional thing, but most of the students took me up on it,” Collins said. “It’s nice to have students learn about what you’re talking about and do it in the field.”

According to Collins’ presentation, one person would read the temperatures starting at the surface, and again for every 500 feet of elevation, from a thermometer attached to the outside of the plane. She said that another person would read the pressure obtained from the handheld barometer, another would record the results and all three students would make atmospheric observations such as cloud cover.

But all students, not just those in Collin’s meteorology class, can enjoy the Web site and plasma screen in NES.

According to Fillmore’s article, it will be possible to get the most up-to-date information from the Web site and television during the coming hurricane season.

“We’ll probably post hurricane tidbits, like ideas for hurricane evacuation and for hurricane preparedness, things like that, on the screen,” Collins said.

Collins also said that a weather photo contest is being held on the Web site. The photos that have been submitted so far include those of lightning, sunsets and clouds. The contest runs through April 28, and photos submitted are also being posted on the plasma screen.