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WKU CHAOS facility receives data visualization grant

Hazardous weather and climate events are a relatively common occurrence each season at WKU. The seasonality of these otherwise extreme atmospheric conditions provides students and faculty in the B.S. Meteorology Program ample opportunities to apply meteorological and climatological theories to forecast and analyze these local and regional events. This type of student-engaged, applied learning is the fundamental philosophy of the College Heights Atmospheric Observatory for Students, or CHAOS.

chaos logo [lightning]“CHAOS typifies the working model of the evidence and argument approach that WKU’s Quality and Enhancement Program strives to embody by developing a knowledge base from the curriculum and providing students opportunities to test their understanding by utilizing various weather and climate analysis techniques for real-time events,” Dr. Josh Durkee said. “In effect, CHAOS provides a path where students can professionalize their learning experience with positive, meaningful benefits for WKU and the surrounding communities.”

In its inaugural academic year, CHAOS has quickly grown from an idea to a functioning state-of-the-art atmospheric/geoscience learning, application, monitoring, prediction, and research facility with partnered working relationships with the National Atmospheric Oceanic Administration National Weather Service, WKU Environmental Health and Safety, WKU School of Journalism and Broadcasting and WxOrNotBG. As part of these relationships, CHAOS is training students to branch out and work closely with these entities on various daily forecasting and communication endeavors.

Part of professionalizing the education experience requires that students gain routine experiences using software and hardware instrumentation that are considered industry-standard. The National Weather Service primarily bases its forecast procedures from weather data visualization and analysis software known as the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS). Over the past few years, much effort has been put into the development of the next generation release of this system, called AWIPS II. The National Weather Service in Louisville plans to implement the AWIPS II update this summer. Meanwhile, Unidata, the entity that currently distributes AWIPS II, put out a call for proposals under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation with targeted interests in AWIPS II installation.

Sample data output from AWIPS II. Source: Unidata

Sample data output from AWIPS II. Source: Unidata

“With AWIPS II coming online as the next premier weather analysis forecasting software suite for the National Weather Service, I have made it a goal to outfit CHAOS with AWIPS II capabilities so that our students can train with the current professional standard in technology,” Dr. Durkee said. “With that in mind, I sought this grant opportunity to provide the funding necessary to bring AWIPS II to fruition for our new facility.”

With notification of full support from Unidata, Dr. Durkee and Dr. Eric Rappin plan to have AWIPS II fully operational this summer. Further, Dr. Durkee and Dr. Rappin will test various avenues for installing and accessing the AWIPS II environment with different operating systems, as well as explore methods of student learning with advanced visualization techniques.

Zack Taylor, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Louisville, added: “Students learning and training on that platform (AWIPS II) will be advantageous for both WKU and the NWS. Students at WKU can train and become proficient on the system but also explore new ways to visualize data or possibly develop new forecasting or meteorological parameters. Overall, this benefits the whole weather enterprise from the university, research community, operations and ultimately our end users/partners.”

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Louisville make regular visits to WKU to provide forecast application workshops for students in the Meteorology Program. For the 2015-16 academic year, Dr. Durkee plans to develop AWIPS II training seminars for which the National Weather Service can provide expertise.

“The model for CHAOS is to prepare students for tomorrow by being ready today,” Dr. Durkee said. “We can spend a lot of time telling students what the professional world is like, but I want to spend that time showing my students that world now.”

“This development represents a tremendous leap forward in forecasting and analysis opportunities for our meteorology students,” noted Geography and Geology Department Head Dr. David Keeling. “WKU students now have access to some of the country’s most cutting-edge forecasting software, which provides them with advantages not available to students at other universities in the region.”

For more, you can follow CHAOS on Twitter at https://twitter.com/wkuCHAOS.

Contact: Josh Durkee, (270) 745-8777


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