There are new eyes in the sky over WKU and it’s called White Squirrel Weather.
Dr. Josh Durkee, Associate Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Research, joined the program in 2008. “I was hired with the primary task to help establish a growing, high-quality Meteorology Program through effective teaching and research, and to innovate these efforts with forward-thinking activities that help professionalize the learning experience,” he said.
Among the first responsibilities in 2008, Dr. Durkee became the Faculty Advisor for a newer, student-centered weather spotter group called the Storm Topper Network. The purpose of Storm Toppers is to offer students who are interested in meteorology and emergency management the opportunity to disseminate real-time severe weather information to campus and community officials through analysis of radar and visual spotting efforts.
Since that time, Dr. Durkee created a forecasting field course (often referred to as the WKU Storm Chase), which was nationally recognized by the North American Association of Summer Programs as the most creative, innovative, and unique summer program in 2010. Students who participate in this course gain valuable severe weather forecasting skills by traveling across the Great Plains to predict and document these extreme events in real time.
Meanwhile, Dr. David Oliver, Director of the Department of Environmental, Health, and Safety, began working with Dr. Durkee and the Storm Topper Network to improve weather safety and awareness at WKU.
On March 20, 2013, WKU became officially recognized as a StormReady® University by the NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office in Louisville. StormReady® communities such as WKU carry out advanced planning and monitoring of severe weather in an effort to mitigate potential hazardous outcomes, as well as to promote education and awareness of these events. This aligns perfectly with the mission of WKU EHS, which is to “provide professional guidance and leadership to the University in achieving regulatory compliance, and promotes a culture of safety and environmental stewardship.”
As part of the Meteorology Program and StormReady® initiatives, in 2014 Dr. Durkee created the College Heights Observatory for Students or CHAOS facility. CHAOS is a student-centered interactive atmospheric/geoscience learning, application, monitoring, prediction and research facility that provides in- and out-of-classroom enhanced training for students at WKU. The CHAOS Meteorology Laboratory consists of 23 custom-imaged computers outfitted with the latest professional weather analysis software. The CHAOS Forecast Laboratory consists of an automated weather station, a 360-degree horizon-view 4K video camera (located on top of Van Meter Hall), a quad-copter with HD capabilities, a suite of computing hardware and software for tracking current and predicted weather and climate conditions, a NOAAPORT weather data portal, and an observation deck that overlooks the west-south-east horizon from WKU.
As these developments have come together, WKU has continued to experience a variety of severe weather hazards, including hail, damaging winds, the threat of nearby tornadoes, dangerous heat conditions, ice storms and crippling snows.
“At times we forget that WKU is really its own city, with a unique population, schools, sports activities, police, fire, shopping, eating, recreation, among others,” Dr. Durkee said. “There are numerous situations when the success or functionality of all of these entities on our campus are in the hands of hazardous weather. These situations have personal health and safety, travel, and economic implications. Now in 2016, this has become the root of White Squirrel Weather.”
The product of CHAOS is White Squirrel Weather (or WSWX for short), a real-time weather and climate monitoring system focused specifically on WKU. WSWX is an innovative robust StormReady® system, synergized by CHAOS instrumentation and software, student engagement within the Meteorology Program, and the mission and actions of the Department of Environmental, Health, and Safety.
The White Squirrel Weather website is located at http://wkuweather.com. This site includes a 2-minute update cycle of campus weather data, including temperature, moisture, humidity, pressure and wind, along with the spectacular campus and sky view from the roof of Van Meter Hall. The site also includes custom-designed radar for WKU with real-time lightning, regional air quality conditions, and for WKU commuters, live traffic conditions. Daily and extended forecast information is also provided at http://wkuweather.com/forecast.php. For those studying meteorology or even for weather enthusiasts, the “Maps” and “Links” pages provide a more advanced offering of meteorological data and analysis.
“We are really only getting started,” Dr. Durkee said. “We have a fantastic team filled with the talent to innovate, create, and implement our campus-focused weather monitoring system that will serve the various needs at WKU. Looking ahead, we have plans for meteorology recruitment and outreach efforts, along with WSWX expansion into more focused efforts around campus.”
Just as the National Weather Service communicates forecast information with local broadcast meteorologists and emergency managers for important societal decision-makers, White Squirrel Weather forecasters within the CHAOS facility will work with the Storm Topper Network and the WKU Storm Team to disseminate WSWX data via social media (http://twitter.com/wkuweather) and television outlets. Together, this unique model of university weather-related operations will continue to help put WKU ahead of other universities with regard to storm readiness and its designation as a recognized Safe Community.
The White Squirrel Weather team includes: Dr. Josh Durkee (Director); Jonathan Oglesby (Health and Safety Specialist/Creative Science Director for the WKU Meteorology Program); Noah Gary of Morgantown (Full Stack Developer and Site Architect); and Evan Hatter of Frankfort (Social Media Director).
With the website in place, the team plans to devote time toward developing a WSWX mobile application for phones and tablets next.
“In this day when most people have numerous weather apps providing information in often confusing ways with various output, we want to provide everyone at WKU a centralized source of weather information that is focused on the campus itself,” Dr, Durkee said. “We want White Squirrel Weather data to be easy to navigate and interpret, and most importantly, to be accessible by everyone at WKU.”
Contact: Josh Durkee, (270) 745-8777