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Roanoke Students Learn about Weather

A Virginia Tech doctoral student’s project to feed low income residents of Roanoke has grown to include elementary schools, students, and teachers. 

Tammy Parece’s doctoral project sounded simple enough.  She wanted to find the best locations to establish community gardens in Roanoke to help eliminate hunger.  The perfect locations must have temperatures cool enough to support a garden. 

"Cities are inherently warmer than their surrounding rural areas.  It’s called the ‘urban heat island effect’.  But not only are they warmer, within a city the temperature varies according to the built environment.”

Parece decided to install weather stations in those areas but she needed some help collecting the data.

“The schools are located across the city; they’re not gathered in any one area.  They’re in neighborhoods.  So that would be a great location to put a weather station.”

She raised money to put weather stations in 11 Roanoke schools. The outdoor equipment was installed last summer.  Parece and several meteorology students from Virginia Tech set up a monitoring unit inside one classroom at each school and at the university to download the information.  And they connected the weather stations to the website Weather Underground.

“So we can see it remotely but not only can we see it, anybody can see it remotely.  Here at Crystal Spring, they can see the detail on their weather station but they could also go into Weather Underground and see the other stations at the other schools.”

Ironically, some of the students involved in the project may eventually benefit from community gardens.

“Many of the schools have a high qualification for the free and reduced lunch program.”

In fact, she says more than 90 percent of the students in some of those schools qualify for nutritional help.  Fourth graders are getting the most hands-on experience with the weather stations because it’s at that grade where students learn about weather instruments, including all the cloud types, fronts, and isobars, says math and science teacher Wade Whitehead.

“Weather is no longer just reading a temperature or using an instrument to look at one moment in time.  It’s about identifying patterns, looking at history and trends, and then actually making predictions about what’s going to happen next.  Science takes time; real science is about looking at what is or isn’t happening and then making a strong educated guess about what might happen next.”

And he says the use of the weather instruments is carrying over into other subjects, such as math.

“We’re generating line graphs, other forms of communication that are useful in math class for example.  Now they have a real life application and it’s not just a line graph somebody else produced that they get to consume.  They actually produced it themselves.  It’s more meaningful that way.”

The kids are having fun, too.  Just ask Crystal Spring fourth grader Alexander Martin.

“I just like being able to see all the cool technology it has, such as wind vanes, anemometers, and barometers.”

Sydnee Durham likes the wind vanes.

“I think it’s fascinating to see how much the wind direction changes.  That’s why I like it.”

Elizabeth Moore’s favorite instrument is the anemometer.

“They measure the wind speed.”  “So that you know how fast the wind is going and what’s happening with the wind.”

Jack Plogger has learned the hygrometer is also an important weather instrument.

“It measures the humidity in the air.  So we can know if when you sweat it’ll stick to you.”

Budding meteorologist Adrian DiMarco has it all figured out.

“Science and math linked together equals weather.”

Tammy Parece is still in the data-gathering stage and will finish her dissertation in two years.  Then she wants to refine her project so any locality can use it.