Dealing with real-world weather problems

Matt Kelsch is one of two volunteers who measure high and low temperature and precipitation each afternoon at Boulder's cooperative observing site, located on the campus of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Photo by Carlye Calvin, UCAR.) It's no fluke that Matt Kelsch is a meteorologist. He was so interested in weather as a child that his fourth grade teacher actually wrote him special tests on the subject. "I knew by fifth grade that it was what I wanted to do," he says. Today Matt is a hydrometeorologist in UCAR's Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training. Known as COMET, the program offers courses and computer-based learning to professional meteorologists and students. He spends most of his time developing and delivering educational materials designed for groups ranging from National Weather Service forecasters to the military, private clients, and scientists and professionals from abroad. "The best way to learn a subject is to have to teach it," Matt says. As a hydrometeorologist, his expertise is in weather events that involve water, such as floods, droughts, and precipitation. One of Matt's favorite things about his job is dealing with issues that have direct applications. "I like working with the people in the field because they don't have the luxury of spending six months studying a storm," he explains. "They might only have 10 minutes. It gives me an appreciation of real-world forecasting." Matt does some real-world fieldwork of his own as a local observer for the National Weather Service. Nearly every day, he takes official measurements of precipitation and temperature in Boulder and submits them to the NWS. He also calls the measurements in to the Boulder Daily Camera, whose reporters often interview him for stories about drought or snowfall. "It's fun answering their questions," he says. A funnel-shaped collection device at Boulder's co-op site helps observers make reports of rain or melted snow to the nearest hundredth of an inch. (Photo by Carlye Calvin, UCAR.) Matt also gets involved in the local community as a coordinator for the Colorado Climate Center's Community Collaborative Rain and Hail Study, better known as CoCoRaHS. Volunteers, both adults and children, take measurements of rain, hail, and snow throughout the state to help gather data for scientific researchers, emergency managers, the media, and schools. Matt is responsible for training volunteers in Boulder, Gilpin, and Broomfield counties. He shows them how to use rain gauges and hail pads, determine the liquid equivalent of snowfall, and report measurements online. Matt has a bachelor's degree in meteorology from the State University of New York in Oswego and a master's degree in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma. Fresh out of graduate school, he came to Boulder in 1986 to work in a forecasting laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1993, COMET tapped him to be a guest lecturer on radar precipitation, and eventually he became part of the program's staff. "I wanted a career in science because I enjoy it so much," he says. When he's called upon to give presentations to elementary school children, he urges them to do the same and pursue what truly interests them. "The point I try to get across is that they choose careers that appeal to them so they'll be happy going to work every day." Matt plans to stay in the field of education and training and look for more opportunities to combine his hydrometeorological expertise with public service. He adds, "I'll get frustrated if I'm not doing something with a direct application." Related Links Tour the aftermath of an urban flash flood (virtually) with Matt Kelsch by Nicole Gordon December 2004

Combining information technology with atmospheric science

Mohan Ramamurthy (Photo by Carlye Calvin, UCAR.) For Mohan Ramamurthy, the best laboratory a scientist could ever have is the atmosphere itself. As he puts it, “The weather is always changing, presenting new challenges on a continual basis.” Mohan is director of Unidata, a UCAR Community Program that works with educators and researchers to provide data and research tools for understanding and exploring the Earth sciences. The program also takes a lead in strengthening collaboration and cooperation in the Earth system science community. But that’s not all he does. Mohan also studies weather prediction, including snowfall and hurricanes, as a scientist in NCAR’s Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division.  “I’m a scientist who has always been passionate about applying computers to advance science education,” he explains. “An organization like UCAR, with its science and service mission, allows me to do both.” He originally planned to be a physicist. While earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in high-energy physics at the University of Poona in India, Mohan began taking computer classes. “I’ve always been fascinated by computers,” he recalls. He also got a job with the India Meteorological Department and worked on an international field campaign to study the Indian monsoon. Forecasts generated continually by computer models at weather services and research centers speed through Unidata's Internet Data Distribution system to 160 universities, where they assist students and faculty in real-world weather analysis. The combination of computers and weather appealed to Mohan so much that he pursued it all the way from India to the University of Oklahoma, where he undertook a doctoral thesis on the analysis of data and modeling of disturbances associated with monsoons. He followed up his Ph.D. with a postdoctoral appointment in supercomputing at Florida State University. His next move was to the University of Illinois, as a professor of atmospheric sciences. “I spent a lot of time there looking for ways to apply information technology to advance science education,” he notes. During his 16 years at the university, Mohan was involved in several innovative projects, including the launch of one of the first Web sites to provide real-time weather data and the creation of Weather World 2010. Launched in 1999, WW2010 is still one of the most widely used weather education sites on the Web, averaging nearly a million hits a week from schools all over the world. The most challenging part of his Unidata job? Bringing together data and tools from different geoscience disciplines. “Most of the significant challenges in our field are multidisciplinary in nature,” he explains. “But integrating the data and tools from different disciplines is difficult and poses a major challenge. The community looks to us for leadership on problems like this. “The most rewarding part is making an impact on the community we serve with the tools, data, and service we provide,” he adds. “And the work we do benefits a very large community.” Unidata’s reach is now global, with more than 150 universities involved and projects on several continents. Although his role at Unidata keeps him busy, Mohan still finds time to continue his meteorological research. One of his main interests is ensemble forecasting of local weather. In this method, scientists account for the uncertainties in a forecast by, for example, varying the initial weather conditions and then comparing the multiple predictions those conditions generated to create a composite forecast. Mohan applies ensemble forecasting to hurricanes as well, using the approach to forecast their track and intensity. Mohan maintains that while atmospheric scientists have made considerable progress in forecasting and other areas over the years, they still have a lot of work ahead. “One of the things I always try to emphasize as a scientist and educator is that we all have a responsibility to document not only the what, where, and when, but also the how and why,” he says. “And that’s where it becomes most challenging and most interesting.” Related Links Mohan Ramamurthy's home page by Nicole Gordon July 2004, updated April 2011


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