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Keeping their 'eye' on the weather

Holy Redeemer eighth-graders receive an education on storms, snowflakes and science during a visit from a meteorologist

October 13, 2010
By Jenny Kirk

MARSHALL - As the eighth-graders from Holy Redeemer School were finishing up their weather unit in science class, they had the opportunity to engage with a real meteorologist.

Laura Lockwood has been a full-time meteorologist since 2002 at Weather Eye Radio Network, which was founded in 1987 by meteorologist Steve Wohlenhaus and currently serves over 400 affiliates nationwide, including the Marshall radio stations.

"I love being a meteorologist," Lockwood said. "I'm also a sky warning instructor. It's exciting, and the best part is that I'm constantly learning new things."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
Meteorologist Laura Lockwood from Weather Eye Radio Network gives a weather presentation to the eighth-grade science classes at Holy Redeemer School in Marshall Monday.

HRS teacher Kathy Richardson contacted KKCK to see if Lockwood would be willing to give a presentation to the science classes at HRS Monday.

"We are finishing up a weather unit that included making daily observations of clouds, percent cover, relative humidity, wind speed and direction," Richardson said. "We spent eight days drawing current surface weather maps and predicting how the weather would change for the next day."

Lockwood's presentation contained visual information on weather patterns, severe weather situations, precautions and links to research more information. One of the highlights for the students was learning about snowflakes.

"I liked it when we found out there were 40 different kind of snowflakes," Kendra Soupir said. "I also liked it when she talked about the clouds. The cumulonimbus cloud is my favorite. One time, I saw two rainbows and they were crossing. It was beautiful with pink, yellow, blue and white clouds around it."

The cumulonimbus impressed Cheyenne Demuth the most, too. She also asked about lightning rods when Lockwood was explaining that lightning was the second-largest cause of severe-weather deaths in the nation. Flooding is the No. 1 killer.

"It's just interesting to find out how lightning happens and what it does to things," Demuth said. "I thought the presentation was really interesting and informational. I think it would be neat to be a meteorologist, but it's a lot of hard work."

Lockwood pointed out that the science of predicting weather has come a long way over the years.

"We're definitely getting more and more accurate," she said. "Twenty years ago, you had to plot everything by hand. It's mostly computerized now, so it really speeds up the process. You still have to use your mind and skills to tweak it though."

Brock Klaith would like to be a storm chaser when he gets older.

"I like learning about severe weather," Klaith said. "It's exciting, although tornados scare me a little. Science is something I want to do when I get older."

While it would still be years before any of the eighth-graders would be able to predict the weather as a profession, they all seemed to have stories about how weather affected them and their families. Soupir knew the difference between a watch and a warning.

"I think it's good to be aware of what could happen," Soupir said. "We need more people to be meteorologists so we know what the weather is doing."

The bottom line, Lockwood said, is that you have to respect the weather and use common sense. Lockwood, who works out of the St. Paul office, came down to HRS on her day off. She admits that she loves to travel, which is a big part of her job.

"Being a meteorologist can be very stressful at times," Lockwood said. "It's a lot of driving and we're contracted to put in about 45-hour weeks with no lunch breaks. But with severe weather, it can often be more like 65-hour weeks. But you do what you do because our clients need coverage."

Long hours and low pay are two of the biggest challenges many meteorologists face in the employment field.

"The weather never stops, so holidays don't exist," Lockwood said. "You can't just take a day off. Meteorologists are also contracted on experience, so you start low. You have to wait in line for the coveted positions, just like pilots or broadcasters do. A lot of times, you also end up moving out of state to go where the jobs are."

Lockwood, who is originally from Circle Pines, suggested that anyone planning to pursue an atmospheric science degree to really apply themselves in math and science classes.

"You'd definitely want a science and math background," Lockwood said. "I started at a community college and then I got a degree from St. Cloud State University. I feel that SCSU is one of the stronger programs in he area."

Lockwood said that so many students drop out of the atmospheric science program because of a number of reasons, but much of it has to do with the strong math emphasis. The program would start with 50 people and finish with about 4, she said, and of those, only one would want to continue on to be a meteorologist.

"There are a lot of symbols and formulas you have to use," Demuth said. "But (Lockwood) told us that once you knew the symbols, it was easy."

But the profession does have unlimited potential in the future.

"The field is so new and with technology, people can come up with their own job," Lockwood said. "There are a lot of people who need a forecast, like farmers, golf courses and ski resorts. You could find your own niche."



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