123 Students of Purdue Observing Tornadic Thunderstorms for Research (SPOTTR): A Severe Storms Field Work Course at Purdue University

Monday, 8 January 2018
Exhibit Hall 3 (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Robin Tanamachi, Purdue Univ., West Lafayette, IN; and D. T. Dawson II, M. E. Baldwin, and L. Carleton Parker

Handout (8.3 MB)

In 2016 and 2017, atmospheric science students at Purdue University took part in a new, department-sponsored field work course focused on severe weather prediction, observation, and measurement. Our course differs from other “storm observation” courses described previously in published literature, in that we incorporate a suite of research-grade instrumentation (radiosondes, portable in situ precipitation stations, a shortwave infrared video camera, and a mobile, X-band Doppler radar), in the context of an organized field observation campaign. The purposes of using these instruments were to produce an authentic experiential learning scenario, and to generate data for both the students’ and instructor’s research efforts.

Over the course of four weeks, students received training in severe thunderstorm forecasting techniques, safe operation of meteorological instruments in severe weather, and potential career tracks in research meteorology. During a one-week field trip, students traveled around the continental U.S. in search of severe weather. Under the instructors’ guidance, students participated in daily weather briefings, fielded instruments, and documented their deployments. Instructors shared relevant observations with local National Weather Service offices via social media and collaborated with other severe weather research groups in the field, helping enhance students’ network of professional contacts. At the end of each operations day, students engaged in reflective journaling to distill lessons learned. On days with no targetable severe weather, students traveled to sites deemed valuable for their professional development, such as the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, where they met with professional meteorologists. After the end of the SPOTTR course, some students requested to continue working with the instructors in an independent study capacity, further exploring the data sets they had collected. Some SPOTTR data sets have been presented at professional conferences.

We present our findings regarding the SPOTTR course’s impacts on students’ severe weather forecasting skills and career aspirations, along with lessons learned by the instructors. Anecdotally, an overall increase in students’ knowledge level and confidence, along with the enthusiasm displayed in student comments, affirm the efficacy of the overall experiential course design. These results constitute a basis for continuation of the SPOTTR course, and a template for other institutions to follow.

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