Students get unique opportunity with DOW

This time of year the holidays are often surrounded by bad weather. While most people wait inside for the weather to defrost, there are some students who purposefully seek out harsh climates.

Meteorology majors are spending this semester getting a chance to see what real storm-chasing is like with new equipment. The DOW (Doppler on Wheels) gives students the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned in class.

November marked the first month this year that the DOW has gotten to see some action as St. Cloud starts to see some snow. Meteorology students have been on the front line of the snow storms this year by waking up at 2 a.m. and spending some time in the middle of the countryside collecting data as the storm approaches.

Even though the experience can be muddy, cold and long, many of the students enjoy the time they get with the machine.

Meteorology major Tyler Bahlmann had the opportunity to go out with the DOW during the first snow storm of the year and was excited to take part in the storm-chasing as it gave him real-life experience.

“It’s really cool to see it working in person,” he said. “You learn all of this stuff in class, but it’s another thing to see it really happening.”

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the equipment is used by schools that don’t have access to their own radar facilities. The DOW is a weather truck that is maintained by the Center for Severe Weather Research. It’s a mobile radar facility that can track how weather is progressing with complex data that can detect weather phenomena.

St. Cloud State recently received a grant to gain access to this high-powered weather toy, allowing students like Tyler to test out their skills at weather detection.

Science Education Professor Rachel Humphrey went out with the students during the first storm and advised them as they made their preparations. She has worked for the Center for Severe Weather Services for seven years, and has dealt with a variety of severe weather conditions.

During the chase Rachel took a backseat and let the students takeover, saying that opportunities like this don’t always come around. Even though she’s only there as a helping hand, Rachel says she’s always on the lookout for unsafe conditions, as no data is worth a life.

“You can think you know everything, but Mother Nature will throw things at you that you never expected,” she said.

Freezing temperatures don’t stop these passionate students. The whole chase is student-driven, and they have to rely on their own working knowledge of weather to get by.

The DOW works by using an adjustable radar dish that needs to be pointed just in the right direction. The radar uses electromagnetic waves to identify the range, altitude, direction and speed of storms. Students deploy pods that detect phenomena in weather patterns.

Rachel believes that this kind of practice will help students become more aware of what it means to be a storm-chaser.

“This helps adds to the knowledge of conditions you might have to work in,” she said. “You can’t fake that kind of situational awareness.”

While most people will be huddle inside this holiday season, the meteorology students will be crossing their fingers for more snow as they get to muddy their boots with more in-field experience.

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