Hurricane Floyd has returned to Ellicott City - this time in the form of a satellite image, visible on a computer screen. The storm moves up the East Coast as it did last year, churning in a counterclockwise motion. It's like a television weather broadcast except Floyd appears on computer screens at Centennial High School.
Kyle Smith and Mark Perdomo are studying Floyd's existence Sept. 15-17, 1999, and noting its movement patterns and impact on the area. Mark likes space and satellites. Kyle is starting to enjoy this project.
"I thought of it as a hassle at first, but its becoming real interesting," Kyle said.
Mark, Kyle and about 10 other freshmen from the Gifted and Talented earth and space sciences class are participating in an after-school enrichment project, studying real time weather images thanks to a satellite dish on the school's roof.
Their teacher, Centennial senior Nicholas Klingaman, 17, has loved studying weather since childhood. He liked to draw weather fronts and color the maps his father brought home.
"I used to make mock weather forecasts for my family," he said.
Nicholas teaches under the supervision of faculty member Diane Cockrell, and he developed most of the lesson plans. "I'm very into computers along with the weather," he said, adding that he plans to major in environmental or atmospheric sciences in college for a career in meteorology.
Through a joint venture between National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center and the science department at Centennial, weather images are transmitted from one of five Geostationary Observational Environmental Satellites (GOES) in simultaneous orbit. The school satellite retrieves the data from NASA, which in turn receives the images from GOES.
A grant from W. R. Grace & Co. in Columbia financed the eight personal computers hooked to a server unit purchased from NASA. Nicholas said he "mounted the satellite dish on the roof, configured and networked the client computers and set up the server to receive the data from NASA."
Centennial is one of 30 to 50 colleges and high schools nationwide with satellites. It began receiving data in February. Cockrell said it is beneficial to take this real-world technology into the classroom.
"They [students] develop an appreciation of what goes into the process," she said.
Students are putting finishing touches on presentations, which will be given to nearly 120 classmates Tuesday and Dec. 13. In groups of two or three, they chose a weather event and constructed a loop (a series of images in continuous motion) similar to what is seen on the Weather Channel.
Before constructing the loop, students learned about software. Zooming and enhancement techniques were practiced to highlight certain images.
They chose from three geographical views or spans. The extended hemisphere covers most of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Another view illustrates the continental United States. And the full disk provides a picture from the North to South Pole.
Floyd was the most popular choice in the class, but Caroline Behringer and Erika Carlson had their minds on shopping conditions and chose the day after Thanksgiving to see where it might have been raining. They decided on a Northern Hemisphere view and liked observing how weather patterns affect the world.
"It's really all the same weather," said Erika. "It just changes as it circulates."
Students said they like the hands-on aspect of the class, working with the computers and manipulating satellite images. "It's the real thing - not what a textbook says is real," Erika said. Classmate Clark Austin said he now knows what television meteorologists are talking about.
Cockrell said she enjoys the group and hopes that someone will develop and pursue an interest in meteorology. "You get to see a creative side of the kids you don't see in the classroom," she said.