2012-01-12 / News

Eighth-graders learn how to use weather station to make predictions

The WeatherBug equipment was purchased with NASA grant money 3 years ago
BY MARGO SULLIVAN


Jim Kaczynski, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Lawn Avenue School, uses the WeatherBug system to help educate the youngsters about weather. 
PHOTO BY MARGO SULLIVAN Jim Kaczynski, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Lawn Avenue School, uses the WeatherBug system to help educate the youngsters about weather. PHOTO BY MARGO SULLIVAN So, where’s the snow gone?

Two hundred eighty-six days and counting – that’s how long it’s been since Jamestown’s last snowfall, which came on April 1, 2011, according to Benjamin Sipprell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass.

As each day passes without a flurry, weather watchers are divided over future predictions. Some say winter will blast back with a fury, while others figure the mild conditions may just linger on toward spring. At Lawn Avenue School, science teacher Jim Kaczynski pointed to a chart of average snowfall amounts for the region. The Providence area averages 35.5 inches every winter, and most of that historically has swirled down in January and February.

Odds are, he said, islanders will see snow again this winter. His eighth-grade science class is learning about weather now, using a weather station, which the school acquired three years ago. Kaczynski estimated the price for the equipment was around $2,500 to $3,000.

Part of the $200,000 NASA grant, which the Jamestown Education Foundation obtained for the Science and Math Scholars program, paid for the WeatherBug station.

The station collects data about rainfall amounts and also measures temperatures, wind chill and wind speeds. Kaczynski led the way out the back door at school to point out the instruments that provide the information.

The instruments are attached to a mast and mounted on the school roof. The WeatherBug system feeds the measurements into the computer and the data appear on a display box inside the classroom.

And everyone can look at the data on the computer display. The weather appears at the bottom of the Jamestown School Department’s webpage. There’s even an app for WeatherBug.

The SAMS grant also paid for a white board, which Kaczynski also uses to present the numbers for a lesson or a class assignment.

“We’re learning about weather and what weather is and the components of what moves weather,” he said. From the display unit, the students can access all the data, including dew point, humidity, barometric pressure, light quantity and, depending on the time of year, the heat index.

For other science classes, they learn how to record data, he said, but the WeatherBug has made the recordings for them.

“We’re teaching them how to use the data,” he said, versus how to record numbers. “Ultimately, the goal is to become meteorologists for a day.”

Kaczynski said later in the semester the students will present a weather forecast, and he predicted the youngsters will be accurate.

“Short-term predictions typically are pretty accurate,” he said. It’s the long-term forecasts that pose the problems, he added.

As for this winter, the long time without snow is not a worry. “I don’t think it’s that unusual,” he said. His historical data showed in a typical winter, only about 6 inches accumulates in December. That means we could still be on track to receive 28 or 29 inches over the next eight weeks.

Kaczynski, who likes to ski, would prefer not to go an entire winter without snow, but he’s still a tiny bit torn. As a teacher, he also wants to stick to the schedule and not miss too many school days because of bad weather. One snow day would be optimal, he said.

And yet, we could go the entire winter without seeing snow, Sipprell said.

It’s not normal, but something like a winter without snow has happened before. Back in the winter of 1972-73, Boston recorded a virtually snowless winter. The total snow accumulation measured 8 inches – and there wasn’t a single big storm. Over that entire winter, no more than 2 inches of snow dropped during a single day, he said.

Sipprell has checked the record books. He’s concluded the warmer than average autumn has set up the conditions for winter. This fall, in fact, is among the 10 warmest since record keeping started in 1895. In every instance, he said, a fall that ranked in the top 10 for warmest temperatures was followed by either a regular winter or a milder than usual winter. It’s never happened that a harsh winter followed one of the mildest autumns, he said.

This winter, the specific reason we’re not seeing any snow is because the cold air has settled to the north and west of Southern New England and is repeatedly being pushed back into Canada.

Also, as the weather marches across the Ohio Valley and into Southern New England, storms are setting up to the north and to the west of our area, meaning we stay on the mild side of any activity. Temperatures around 35 or 36 degrees can support snow, he said, but we haven’t had any precipitation when the temperatures have dropped to those levels. When we have had precipitation, the temperatures have been higher, resulting in rain, not snow.

Of course, that pattern can change, but it also might continue, he said.

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