More students are bitten by WeatherBug

Glenelg Country tracks data and finds enough interest for a club

December 27, 2006|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,Special to The Sun

Jim Silvestri has always been fascinated by weather. Every winter, the Glenelg Country School earth sciences teacher conducts a weather unit with his eighth-grade class. But when his school purchased a weather-tracking station, the educator was inspired to measure wind chills and heat indexes outside the classroom and start a weather club.

"We get to come here, take a little break and play with the computers," said 12-year-old John Chalk. The Ellicott City seventh-grader has been in the Weather Club for two years. Using information from their tracking station, John and the other club members create weather forecasts on the school's intranet system. Last week, they predicted today's weather would be partly sunny, in the high 40s.

Glenelg Country School is one of 13 county schools hosting a WeatherBug tracking station. WeatherBug, a Germantown-based company, has been selling weather-tracking equipment and related educational software for about 14 years. Nationwide, it has more than 8,000 school-based stations, providing a network for students to learn about weather beyond what they can see out their classroom windows.

Using WeatherBug's real-time data and live camera feeds allows students to track weather while they watch its effects.

"It's nice to have the data linked to the actual camera," Silvestri said. "As a storm gets closer, they can actually watch the pressure drop. ... They can actually then see that on the camera."

Each weather tracking station is mounted on a metal mast 10 to 15 feet high. Sensors and equipment are clipped along the length of the post. The stations are usually mounted on a roof.

Frank McCathran, manager of WeatherBug education, said the commercial-grade monitoring equipment measures 27 parameters. WeatherBug converts raw information such as wind speed, humidity and rain levels into classroom-friendly charts and satellite maps.

McCathran said the company provides schools with a Web site.

"It's going to give them their data right off their rooftop in many different formats," he said.

Some stations, such as Glenelg's, include weather cameras. "It can show us detailed depictions of what's going on," said eighth-grader James Hannah, 14. He said he likes watching the transitions, as if it's raining and the sky gradually changes from clouds to sun.

Glenelg Country, a private school, installed the weather station three years ago. Silvestri was trained to use the tracking station and WeatherBug Achieve - the related educational software program. He said the satellite maps, temperature maps and graphics WeatherBug provides help bring out what teachers are trying to get across in class.

"If we're looking at a weather map with high- and low-pressure systems, trying to get them to understand what type of weather high pressure systems will bring, I can show them a map and then I can take them through the camera to that area" to see what's happening outside, Silvestri said.

WeatherBug's director of public relations, Mara Radis, said that focusing on community-based tracking stations is one of the company's goals. "By putting them at the schools, we're able to get into the neighborhoods, not the airports," she said. She estimates that 95 percent of WeatherBug stations are at schools.

Most schools using WeatherBug buy the equipment outright. A basic tracking station costs about $5,000. As extras are added - a camera or WeatherBug Achieve software - the price can go up to as much as $15,000.

McCathran said the cost of a WeatherBug station and the Achieve program is most often paid for with PTA money, grants, and school discretionary funds. Some schools use federal No Child Left Behind funds.

Having a tracking station at school makes the data more meaningful for students, according to McCathran. "It's real life. They're doing something in class that's going to impact their baseball tryouts or family vacation," he said.

Glenelg's Weather Club likes to use the program's animation feature. Members visit cameras across the country and watch the weather through time-lapse photography. This helps students visualize the effects of a storm, or allows them to watch a storm front rolling in.

"The kids, when they see nature like that, especially when it's very intense, they kind of get glued" to following the data, Silvestri said. "I hope they have [gained] a little bit of respect for what nature can do."

Schools with a WeatherBug Tracking Station in Howard

Folly Quarter MS Resurrection-St Paul* Patapsco MS Wilde Lake HS Howard Community College Phelps Luck ES West Friendship ES Oakland Mills MS Mount View MS Clemens Crossing ES Clarksville MS Columbia Academy* Glenelg Country School * Schools in Howard with WeatherBug Achieve Glenelg Country Day School* Resurrection- St. Paul School* Columbia Academy* Folly Quarter Middle School

* Private

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