NYS Mesonet Welcomes North Colonie Elementary Students for ETEC Tour

North Colonie elementary students view the "Science on a Sphere" at ETEC.
North Colonie elementary students view the "Science on a Sphere" at ETEC.

By Sophie Koutsoftas

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 21, 2023) — The University at Albany welcomed around 60 third graders from Forts Ferry Elementary in the North Colonie School District last Thursday to tour the ETEC research and development complex and learn about how weather data is collected and measured.  

The two-hour tour, hosted by New York State Mesonet program manager June Wang, started at the Science on a Sphere room, an educational tool used to track satellite and climate data on a six-foot diameter projector globe. 

Wang showed the kids how the globe works through displays of animated storms and airplane flight paths around the world.  

“I think it’s important to attract kids into STEM fields, especially atmospheric science, and it's very relevant to their daily lives,” Wang said. “It’s important to let them know that this is one of the options for their future.” 

Following the Science on a Sphere visit, the kids toured a New York State Mesonet weather tower, which collects a variety of environmental data in real-time, along with camera images, and sends the information back to Mesonet headquarters at ETEC every five minutes.  

North Colonie elementary teachers and UAlbany student interns prepare a weather balloon for lift off at the ETEC parking lot.
North Colonie teachers Beth Cartwright, Bridget Drescher and Amanda Rogner prepare to release a weather balloon for the National Weather Service.

The tour concluded with what most students were most excited to see: the launch of a weather balloon. The National Weather Service office in Albany, located inside the ETEC building, is partnering with UAlbany’s Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences and the NYS Mesonet to temporarily replace daily launches until its normal operations resume later this spring. 

The Albany site uses helium to lift radiosondes — small, expendable instrument packages, which are attached to balloons and measure a wide range of weather data that support forecasts. About half a dozen UAlbany student interns are launching the balloons and sharing real-time atmospheric data with the National Weather Service from the ETEC parking lot. 

North Colonie elementary teachers Beth Cartwright, Bridget Drescher and Amanda Rogner released the balloon along with members of the UAlbany intern team.  

“We’re studying weather and it’s very complicated so it’s nice for our students to see the instruments in person and have a hands-on approach,” Cartwright said. “We do have some weather materials in our building, but it’s not as detailed as it is here. We want our students to get a deeper understanding of how the instruments work.” 

ETEC is UAlbany’s newest research facility, home to many of the University’s signature research strengths, including climate science, emergency preparedness and cybersecurity. The $180 million, 246,000-square-foot complex opened in fall 2021.