New weather equipment forecast to benefit Oswego students, research

SUNY Oswego students can learn to better understand and forecast extreme and everyday weather events, thanks to equipment coming through a National Science Foundation grant.

The $156,072 NSF major research instrumentation grant allows Oswego’s meteorology program to purchase three suites of instruments students will use in classes and research, project director Scott Steiger said.

The most visible component will be a surface instrumentation suite on a 30-foot-tall tower going up on the campus lakeshore in the coming weeks. Equipment will measure temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed, barometric pressure and precipitation.

“It’s going to be equivalent to the surface stations the National Weather Service runs,” Steiger said. “It’s very high quality.”

The college will also purchase a mobile upper-air radiosonde, which can gather readings on temperature, humidity and wind speed and direction at different atmospheric levels. Instruments are attached to helium balloons and can be launched up to 10 miles above ground to measure lake-effect snowbands and other conditions, Steiger said.

The third and final major investment under the grant is another mobile weather tool called a tethersonde, five instruments attached to a tethered blimp-like balloon. “It can take continuous measurements at five different levels as high as 1,000 feet,” Steiger noted.

Taken together, all three instrumentation suites provide many different ways and angles to gather data on lake-effect storms, lake breezes, land breezes and other weather conditions. As lake storms come ashore, researchers can even launch the instruments into the core of the system to gain otherwise hard-to-obtain readings.

Earth sciences faculty members including Steiger, Robert Ballentine, Steve Skubis and Al Stamm will use these tools to work with students on a wide variety of lessons and research.

The outdoors is the best meteorology classroom, Steiger said, and the grant allows opportunities to take students outside and use professional instruments to measure conditions. “It’s great for them to be able to learn and conduct research at the same time,” he said.

The tools also support current research to better understand the structure, and thus predict the behavior, of lake-effect snowstorms.

“One of the bigger goals is to compare the data from these systems with our computer numerical models to see if they agree with the model,” Steiger explained. “We have a lot of hypotheses for how these storms form, move and intensify. We’re going to use these measurements to test our hypotheses.”

The two mobile suites—the radiosonde and tethersonde—are expected to be part of Oswego’s “Storm Chasing” course that will track extreme weather across the nation’s heartland this summer. Measuring conditions around tornados and heavy thunderstorms should help convey the science behind how these powerful storms form, Steiger added.

“Ultimately having this equipment will help us get more grants to pay our students to do research,” Steiger said. “It’s a really exciting time to be here.”

The plan is to have all the equipment operational to incorporate into next semester’s lessons. “The bulk of the research will be started in the spring semester with the students,” Steiger said.

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CONTACT: Dr. Scott Steiger, steiger@oswego.edu

(Posted: Oct 29, 2008)

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