Doppler on Wheels provides hands-on learning for Meteorology Dept.

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Imagine racing down the road in a truck with an 8-foot radar dish in tow, intent on catching the next storm system.

That’s what students in the Department of Marine and Environmental systems have been doing for the last week in the Doppler on Wheels 7.

“In July, I got an email from Josh Wurman and his crew from the Center for Severe Weather Research,” said Steven Lazarus, lead professor of meteorology on the DOW project.

He brought in the DOW on a education grant for his Remote Sensing class after several proposals while on sabbatical in Colorado.  

“We were approved by the National Science Foundation and they were going to make that 2,000-mile ride to Melbourne,” Lazarus said.

DOW7, one of three fully-outfitted storm-chasing trucks in the Center for Severe Weather Research’s fleet, has been parked next to the Olin Physical Science Building since Aug. 31.

A Doppler radar determines the location and velocity of storms, clouds and precipitation. The DOW setup allows scientists and meteorologists to bring this radar system along with them into storms.

This technology allows for a high definition view of the system compared to a more pixelated view on transitional radars, like the WSR-88D at the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

“The radar has dual polarization, which means it sends out pulses of electromagnetic radiation that both horizontal and vertical oriented,” Lazarus said.

Lazarus said this tells you a lot about the micro-physics of a cloud, showing the difference which between water droplets and ice, which are essential to lightning.

During this project, students from Lazarus’ class go to the weather service in the morning and work with professional meteorologists to where the best place is for potential storms to occur later that day. That information is then relayed to the class.

“We sit down with a forecaster from the National Weather Service for about an hour and get a briefing on that day’s storms,” Nick Lensson, President of the Florida Tech student chapter of the American Meteorological Society and a member of the class.

Students later in the day will then go out in the field and take their own measurements of the storm systems they chase.

“Students are actually in the radar at ground zero working through all the scan strategies,” Lazarus said.

Students were able to intercept a storm and gather precipitation data on a chase experience when the DOW was set up at the Eastern Florida State College Palm Bay campus. “It was an awesome experience being out there on the first day,” Lensson said.

About 30 students will go through a 90-minute class inside the DOW to learn how it works and understand how to take data from it.

Lazarus said students are learning how to operate the dish, radar, set up scan strategies, as well as learning about plane position indicators and range height indicators — which are electromagnetic radar sensing systems that produce map-like images.

“We got to sit in and see where all the magic happens,” Lensson said. “It looks complicated at first, but when it was broken down, it was really simple and accessible to take measurements quickly when there is a storm.”

“The most exciting part about the DOW was how fast it scans. I did see some of the pictures; and the dual pole the images are just phenomenal,” Lensson said.

The ultimate goal of the research that is going on this side of the education is to look at the convection initiation, deep convection (thunderstorms), lightning, coastal showers, and coastal conversance.

Many students were also pleased to have inventor of the original DOW, Josh Wurman, on campus. Wurman is atmospheric scientist noted for his research on tornadoes, tropical cyclones and weather radar. He is also very well-known for the television show, Stormchasers, on the Discovery Channel.

Wurman and his colleague spoke to students for about 75 minutes on Sep. 3 about their research and to get them excited about their futures in the field.

“I thought it was amazing,” Lensson said. “The video he has of an intercept and the pictures he had from supercells were just phenomenal, and work they do all year long and how they are able go all around the country and overseas was very impressive.”