Last Saturday at Pucillo Gymnasium, there was a lot of talk about the weather. But the talk wasn’t aimless or based in people’s personal superstitions, and the participants weren’t just killing time.
The occasion was Millersville University’s Public Weather Awareness Day, an event, free and open to people of all ages, that was meant to educate members of the community about the weather.
A lot of the time, people know a little bit about the weather but not too much, and we want to give them an inside look into meteorology, said student Jim Fowler, the vice president of the Millersville chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).
Saturday’s event was a big deal for the MU AMS, which helped to run it. A big part of the organization is community outreach, Fowler said counting heads as a young family walked in the door.
The event consisted of live demonstrations, crafts and face-painting for the kids, and dozens of informative displays, some from private-sector companies, some from student groups and others from government agencies.
At the National Weather Service’s booth, a six-year-old boy was enchanted by a plasma ball. When he touched it, the visible electrical charge flickered over to his finger. “It’s to demonstrate electricity,” said the Craig Evanego, the ’96 MU grad who manned the booth. “You can see how the electricity is attracted to you.”
Freshman Kristen Pozsonyi, a meteorology student, wanted to debunk some weather mysteries at her booth.
Are fluffy clouds really made of cotton?
The answer is no.
The universe is random–lightning never strikes the same place twice, right?
Actually it can.
A representative from WGAL was in attendance; visitors could see him, in the flesh, next to a video of himself hosting the TV news.
UNISYS, a company that builds and operates systems for gathering weather data and supplies this data to the Federal Aviation Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, displayed surprisingly beautiful radar footage on three laptop screens. Passersby could watch the precipitation and cloud cover flash across the country in sped-up five-minute loops. Manning this booth was Brian Hughes, a ’97 meteorology alumnus.
Of the tiny outlying flashes that sometimes appeared, Hughes said, “You get a lot of false echoes in the spring. We clean up the radar: we take out the non-weather false echoes before sending it off.”
These “false echoes,” he said, could have resulted from changes in the density of the air, or birds flying, or even insects. False echoes come from “beam-bending,” when a radar beam bounces off different layers of air and gets redirected toward to ground.
In the upper tier of the gym were more informative booths, including one that displayed information on the many prestigious projects the Earth Science department has recently been involved in. During the DISCOVER-AQ project, in Arizona, students helped to measure air quality for NASA.
Michael Cook and Rosa Brothman, both junior meteorology students, attended a display that focused on space weather. What is space weather?
It’s when the sun’s magnetic field interacts with Earth’s magnetic field, they explained. It can have serious effects on Earth: solar flares shooting off from the sun have caused power blackouts. But it can also have seriously gorgeous effects: space weather is responsible for the phenomenon of “aurora borealis.”
Cook and Brothman had just come back from a space weather conference, which took place in Colorado. Students and older scientists came from 23 countries to discuss their research and to learn how to better coordinate with each other so they could give the public as much warning about space-weather events as possible.
The students said they were excited to be at the conference, and excited to be in a new and relatively unexplored field. “A lot of questions are still unanswered,” Cook said.