Given the right conditions, on the right day, severe weather can take a bright, blue sky and turn it into the platform for violent thunderstorms to form. The only way to get a heads up is to know exactly what is going on in the air above our heads.
That is something Texas A&M Students in the College of Geosciences is helping to do for Brazos Valley and national meteorologists.
Dr. Don Conlee at Texas A&M leads a team of students that launch weather balloons. Not just your typical balloon filled with helium, but on that carries scientific packages into the atmosphere that provide information about variables that are important in severe weather forecasting.
Conlee says that these A&M students are helping meteorologists around Texas because they are "frequently called by the NWS offices in Houston, Fort Worth, and sometimes from the Storm Prediction Center. As the situation develops and [the Brazos Valley's] position has value, they'll launch a special weather balloon from campus."
Upper-air data is collected at specific National Weather Service Offices around the country. The closet data -- that is collected on a normal basis -- to the Brazos Valley is in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Corpus Christi, Texas or Fort Worth, Texas. That "upper-air" hole is filled by Texas A&M when severe weather is possible. With these extra soundings, forecasters gain the understanding of the atmosphere roughly 100 miles outward from College Station.
Texas A&M University, Junior Meteorology Major Rachel Sodowsky says that "just looking at it in class gets you disconnected, but when you are out there collecting [data], it's nice to see it all come together."
It's a two-fold benefit. While these students are getting valuable, hands on practice while in school, forecasters are gaining a better understanding of what is happening beyond the scope of the typical computer forecast model.