Radar Observations of Storms for Education: A bridge between idealized conceptual diagrams and real weather

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015: 10:30 AM
125AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Sandra E. Yuter, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC; and N. A. Corbin, M. A. Miller, S. M. Ellis, and P. C. Kennedy

Conceptual model diagrams are frequently used in undergraduate and graduate atmospheric science courses because they allow students to visualize the interwoven pieces of complex storm systems. These models are visual simplifications of the relationships that govern the system and have been shown to significantly improve student learning in the classroom. Despite their recognized importance, traditional conceptual models are most often static representations of dynamic, evolving systems. The necessary simplification involved in designing clear conceptual diagrams omits most of the complex and noisy reality of authentic storms. Studies have shown that the educational value of conceptual models is maximized when students are able to compare and contrast the model with real data and identify weaknesses in the simplified model.

The Radar Observations of Storms for Education project aims to develop a series of dynamic examples of storms that can be used to supplement and compare to static conceptual models and idealized storm simulations. The data collection phase of the project was undertaken in May and June 2014 using two research radars near Denver, Colorado: SPOLKa operated by the National Center of Atmospheric Research and CHILL operated by Colorado State University. Storms were scanned in both horizontal and vertical cross-sections and information was obtained on the type of precipitation (rain vs. hail) as well as the winds. A team of four undergraduates operated both radars remotely from North Carolina State University. The students made real-time decisions on where to focus the observations within each storm. The next phases of the project will combine data from the two radars into three-dimensional visualizations of storm structure evolution and develop exercises to accompany each case study module.

Our storm case study modules will be guided explorations of a real data set. As such, they will represent an intermediate step between sequential teaching using idealized examples and independent use of radar data analysis software wherein the novice student may likely miss some or all of the important features of the storm structure. Initial case study modules will be “test driven” in Dr. Yuter's graduate level courses during the 2014-15 academic year. A set of 3-4 beta-tester atmospheric science instructors from other universities will be recruited for the 2015-16 academic year. Feedback from classroom use will enable us to refine the modules and exercises in order to maximize learning potential before the modules are put into wide release.