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Wrap-around weather

New ML exhibit surrounds visitors with science

September 25, 2012 | There’s no missing the latest addition to the Mesa Lab lobby. Enter through the front door, turn left, and you’re in the new Weather Gallery—a color-filled space packed with meteorological imagery and hands-on activities. Nearly all of the components are now in place, with an official opening slated for October (see below).

Lightning and tornado exhibits in new ML weather gallery
Old meets new: the popular and venerable tornado machine (left) retains its central location on the first floor of the Mesa Lab as new exhibits take shape around it. (Photos by Carlye Calvin.)

The new gallery is a quantum leap beyond the scattered exhibits that filled the space for years, according to Spark exhibits manager Becca Hatheway. “The old layout felt like a pinball machine,” she says. “It was added on to over the years and never had the opportunity to be planned and thought out.”

After an integrated exhibit on climate was added to the second floor in 2003, Spark planned the same approach to weather on the first floor once budgets allowed. Bond funding associated with ML building improvement made the gallery a reality.

The Weather Gallery softens the hard edges of the long ML hallway with curved panels and other “buildouts”—design features that help shape the exhibit space and root the visitor. “Some staff have told me that they feel embraced,” says Becca. The blue and purple panels are complemented by touches of orange that echo the 1970s-hued mural on the ML lobby’s north side.

Observations exhibit in the ML Weather Gallery
Three types of anemometers are displayed in the new ML weather gallery. The exhibit also includes a new framework for real-time wind observations collected from the ML roof.

The gallery is divided into five sections that flow into one another:

  • Weather Is Always Happening
    (solar energy, convection, clouds, winds)

  • Weather Events
    (tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms, fronts)

  • Weather Observations
    (instrumentation, weather watchers)

  • Predicting Weather
    (models, chaos, forecast improvements)

  • Weather and Climate
    (averages, variations over time and space)

Each gallery has a hands-on exhibit, and four of the five also include touchscreen monitors that allow visitors to delve deeper. One touchscreen will allow people to compare a variety of cloud photos and descriptions to what they’re seeing through windows on the east side of the gallery.

Condit employee Caleb Issacks installs hailstone on hood of car in ML weather gallery
On a car trunk that protrudes from the east wall of the Weather Gallery, Caleb Issacks (Condit Exhibits) installs a model of the hailstone that fell on Coffeyville, Kansas, in 1970. 

Several of the lobby’s most popular elements over the years have been kept, including the iconic tornado exhibit. And Magic Planet, which displays full-globe visualizations, has been moved to a curtained closet beneath the main ML stairwell, where the darkness will boost its visual appeal.

In the adjoining alcove, Tell Your Weather Story allows visitors to describe and post their own experiences using paper and colored pencils. “I’m excited to have something participatory,” says Becca.

A team effort

Launched two years ago by Becca’s predecessor, Linda Carbone, the weather gallery benefited from volunteers across the institution who participated in several advisory committees, worked on touchscreen interactives, and contributed photos and other content. EOL pitched in as well, contributing three types of anemometers for display. A Machine Shop team led by Jim Ranson transformed a 1990s prototype of the lobby’s classic make-a-microburst exhibit into an entirely new version. And with Dave Maddy at the helm, Maintenance staff installed several exhibit components, modified electrical outlets, and painted the now-gleaming space.

All staff are invited to join Spark and committee members in toasting the new gallery at a reception from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 10.

Becca Hatheway with one of the new Weather Gallery exhibits
Spark exhibits manager Becca Hatheway coordinated the development process for the Weather Gallery.