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Sunny with a Chance of Tornado 

Salah Harris, at left, gets some hands-on experience in weather forecasting at UAlbany's Weather and Climate Camp for high school students, as undergraduate research assistant Matthew Brewer coaches. (Photos by Carlo de Jesus)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Aug. 28, 2017) – Students in Justin Minder’s Weather and Climate Camp channeled their favorite weather forecaster on a recent summer’s day.

The high school students took turns presenting the weather while standing in front of a blank “green screen,” and interpreting the changing weather patterns flickering on a computer screen in front of them.

Once recorded, just like on TV, the young forecasters had to match their movements to the weather map behind them.

The camp, for ninth, 10th, and 11th graders from Schenectady, Troy, Albany, Watervliet and Rensselaer high schools, ran Aug. 7-11 and is funded by the National Science Foundation. Campers visited a mountaintop weather observatory, met National Weather Service forecasters, conducted experiments, launched a weather balloon and learned about careers and college opportunities.

Minder is an assistant professor of atmospheric and environmental sciences who traveled to the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, earlier this summer to help train Korean Meteorological Association forecasters for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“The UAlbany Weather and Climate Camp gives students an opportunity to dig deeper into the science of understanding our atmosphere than they would have in a typical high school classroom,” he said. Students collect data in the field, meet career professionals, and design, conduct and present their own research projects.

Salah Harris of Troy High School did his practice run in front of the green screen.

“Hi, this is Salah Harris coming to you live from DAES 11 (for Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences). We have a warm front coming up the East Coast. We get some high pressure up here, then a hurricane – a big one!” The tension was building. “Hide your kids!” Harris proclaimed, taking the apocalyptic approach.

Undergraduate research assistant Matthew Brewer of Ovid, N.Y., coached the students, who had to learn to move as a weathercaster does, sweeping an arm across the correct side of map to show the East Coast, even though they could only see the computer screen on the desk in front of them, not what was projected behind them.

“So if I raise this arm, it’s not like a mirror,” said Amanda Clifford of Fonda-Fultonville High School when it was her turn. “When I’m moving…this is weird. You have to move your arm in the opposite direction.”

“It’s easier to show the map if you stand on the left side,” Brewer offered. Brewer, who plans on earning a doctorate and becoming a professor, was leaving shortly after Weather Camp’s conclusion for two weeks of research on Whiteface Mountain as part of a UAlbany-Atmospheric Sciences Research Center project.

Clifford, who is going into 10th grade, later said that she envisions having a career in the sciences.

Justin Minder

Assistant Professor Justin Minder leads the camp, with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Brewer reminded the students they didn’t need to be super serious when being recorded.

Kira Weston of Rensselaer Junior Senior High School took the cue: “Really good weather tomorrow, followed by a huge cyclone,” she said, circling the cyclone area with her hand. “Get milk, bread, peanut butter. If you don’t prepare, you may not make it! Take in your lawn furniture. One-thousand-mile-per-hour winds!”

Jennifer Brown of Guilderland High School revealed a storm chaser’s love of turbulent weather.

“It will be a boring day,” Brown quipped as she practiced. “Boring” translates to “sunny day.”

“Tomorrow will be awful. Just sunny. Horrible. No storms at all. This will be followed by a storm surge and flooding. Everyone evacuate right now!” she finished with a flourish.

When it was her turn to be recorded, Brown stepped up the drama. “So here we have hurricanes, hurricanes, tornados, thunderstorms!” She said she is most fascinated by the development of tornados.

It’s that excitement that Weather Camp works to build on with the students.

“We try to share with them some of the passion we have for the science,” Minder said. “However, in the end it is a two-way street: Seeing their enthusiasm and curiosity also energizes us and gives us hope for the future of our discipline.”

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.