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Classroom Spotlight: Atmospheric Science and Chemistry Department

By Tracy Ripkey; For the Clock
On November 26, 2017

Classroom Spotlight: Atmospheric Science and Chemistry Department 

Tracy Ripkey

For the Clock 

Would you like to experience the “Worst Weather in the World”? “Through PSU’s partnership with Mount Washington Observatory (MWOBS), one PSU meteorology student is selected each year to intern for two weeks at the summit in January. MWOBS offers internships open to anyone in the US during three seasons: Winter (Jan-May), Summer (May-Aug) and Fall (Sept-Dec). Typically, students or recent graduates interested in geoscience or computer science apply and are selected”, said Dr. Eric Kelsey from the Atmospheric Science & Chemistry Department. 

Mt. Washington, home of “The Worst Weather in the World”, documented a record breaking wind gust with a speed of 231 mph in April of 1934, a temperature of 47 degrees below zero observed in April of the same year, and recorded a wicked 566.4 inches of snow during the winter of 1968-69. Dr. Kelsey personally experienced his worst weather and most exhilarating as Superstorm Sandy was moving in. “I was on the summit when it was 37F, foggy, winds sustained at 80 mph and gusting to 100 mph that pelted me with rain that felt like nails hitting me. I was out in those conditions installing the PSU meteorology mobile weather station to measure the anticipated strong southeast winds on the southeast side of the summit. The winds became so strong that small rocks and branches were hitting the Observatory windows that night. The strong winds and possibly flying debris broke off the anemometer on the mobile weather station only 3 hours after we installed it.”

I also had an opportunity to sit down with Dr. Sam Miller, who is the Department Chair of the Atmospheric Science & Chemistry Department and talk about Synoptic Meteorology and Tropical Meteorology. Miller introduced me to Tropical Meteorologist, Dr. Lourdes Aviles, professor at PSU, and author of “Taken by Storm 1938”, a Social and Meteorological History of the Great New England Hurricane”. We talked a bit about her book, and the recent hurricane, Maria, that hit Puerto Rico. Dr. Aviles is originally from Puerto Rico, and has some friends who still live there. We shared some stories about the aftermath of dealing with a hurricane, and about the aftermath being the most difficult part. I can relate to her stories as a Floridian, and someone who has family in Florida who recently went without power for a week following the aftermath of Irma. Aviles talks about the challenges of clean-up, rebuilding, dealing with limited supplies, and high emotions taking a toll on everyone. She also told me about some internship possibilities within Tropical Meteorology in Boulder, CO, through the National Science Foundation, and about a project one of her students is currently working on, comparing past hurricane seasons against each other.

According to Dr. Aviles, “PSU does not track hurricanes, that is left up to the National Hurricane Center, PSU does monitor them, and follows the published information from official sources.” Dr. Aviles explains that it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to have others establishing hurricane track predictions to conflict with the National Hurricane Center. They are the established and reliable source for public information. 


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