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Visiting the National Weather Service

Monday, January 7, 2013

Shortly after Oliver's birthday in November, Oliver was given an opportunity to visit the National Weather Service (NWS) Center in Fort Worth.  It was a super wonderful surprise we came upon while at Baylor when we met a NWS meteorologist who welcomed Oliver's questions and curiosity about tornadoes.

Oliver was SO very excited.  He had had his tornado birthday party only a few days before so he decided to wear his tornado tshirt to meet the meteorologists.  (Oliver kept calling them "storm-chasers" since that's what he hoped they were.  I just explained they were, in fact, storm-chasers...just storm-chasers who chase storms from their office chair."



Brian and I were really surprised how little the National Weather Service office is.  I guess whenever I have seen the National Weather Service's announcements break into my TV shows, I must have envisioned some massive high rise of busily working meteorologists.  It turns out, it was a very quiet laid back atmosphere filled with nothing more than some computers, TV screens and archaic (but still very relevant) meteorology equipment.


Brian and I thought the reason the TVs were on football the Saturday evening we came to visit the NWS was because it was the weekend and the guys were relaxing on the job.  But it turns out that the TVs are always on those channels all day long.  They are the local news affiliate channels so that the NWS can monitor the local news weather forecasts.  The NWS meteorologists regularly "talk" to the area weathermen (talk, as in chat via messaging on the computer) as they work together, especially in dangerous weather conditions.


The original meteorologist we met a few weeks before was unable to meet us the night we came.  So Steve, another meteorologist at the National Weather Service was happy to give us a guided tour.  Oliver was most interested in the red light in the center of the room.  Steve explained the light went off during bad weather to signal to all of the meteorologists in the room to be quiet whenever one of the meteorologists were on the phone recording their voice for a storm/tornado warning.


The interesting thing is that although meteorologists can record specific warnings via phone (to be broadcasted on the radio and TV), most of the time an automated voice is used.  Steve showed Oliver how a knob on the computer allows the meteorologists to change the automated voice from a man's voice to a woman's voice.




After some time inside, Steve brought Oliver outside to show him how they monitor the weather.  This was the rain gauge.


The rain gauge was such a simple set up.  It was a cone with a hole on the top of it and a pan on the bottom.  It seemed this rain gauge was probably created in the 1950's.


However, Steve let us in on a secret.  The rain gauge had been outfitted with a small computer that actually documented the amount of rain that had been caught as well as a USB flash drive that allows the meteorologists to check the rain gauge several times daily and upload the data on their computers.









This piece of equipment, Steve explained, is not as important these days as it was when local farming was so important many years ago, measures the ground/soil temperature.


These two pieces of equipment are called temperature beehives.  They measure the high and low temperature.

This instrument is called an anemometer tower and measures the wind.


Of course, Oliver was highly interested in where the meteorologists go when there is a tornado.  So, Steve told us an interesting piece of information.  Basically, the National Weather Service is housed in a double-wide trailer.  So, it turns out that their "break room" is their tornado shelter.


Steve showed us how the break room is actually enclosed in very thick and heavy metal. (Notice the doorway is SUPER thick.)

This very heavy door can be shut and locked to protect the meteorologists in the case of a tornado.


Oliver was able to reset this piece of equipment, which measures the air pressure.  I wish I could remember what it was called but, at this point, I can't remember anymore.  Oliver really enjoyed getting to help the men do their work.  They have to check and reset the equipment about twice daily.


Meteorologist Jason was incredibly sweet to let Oliver watch what he was doing.  He was monitoring the satellite radar and watching the approaching weather.


Probably the highlight of Oliver's visit was getting to help lift off the NWS weather balloon.  This is Meteorologist Gerry showing Oliver what the weather balloon looks like deflated.


Oliver got to touch and hold the weather balloon.  It was just like a very very large balloon.


Bennett was such a champ.  He was so patient while the men talked to Oliver, Brian and myself.



A few minutes before 6pm, we walked outside the National Weather Service to the weather balloon inflation/launch building.


This building holds the hydrogen used to blow up the very large balloon.  It is in a separate building since hydrogen is highly flammable.  Inside the dome of the building is a dish that receives radio signals to track the balloon and record its data.



This small box is attached to the bottom of the weather balloon.  The purpose of a weather balloon is to rise through the atmosphere and gather as much information as possible with regards to the temperature, dewpoint, and wind direction and speed at different pressure levels in the atmosphere.  This box also has a GPS onboard so that the meteorologists can track how fast the balloon goes up, what direction is goes and when it finally pops/lands.



The balloon sits ready to be launched.


Oliver and Bennett watch as Gerry raises the garage door to the building.


I couldn't really get exactly how big this balloon was until I saw this picture of how little the boys were compared to it.


Oliver was so very excited to help launch the balloon.





Gerry hooks the data box to the string on the bottom of the balloon.


Gerry had to pull the very long string out pretty far to keep the string from getting tied up in a knot before the launch.


Ready...


Set...


Go...


The balloon went up SOOOO fast!  I could hardly capture it!  Within seconds, it was far up in the sky.


Oliver and Mr. Gerry


Gerry was very sweet and offered several pamphlets to Oliver.  I was like a library in there with boxes of promotional weather materials.  Gerry would say, "do you have a book about this?"  Olive would eagerly say, "yes but I can have another!"  He was so grown up and eager with his little book under his arm, ready to accept more tornado material to read.




Before our time at the NWS came to the end, Steve showed Oliver a few more things on the computer. This moment was particularly funny to me.  Steve was showing something to Oliver, pointing to the words on the screen when I jumped in and said, "see Oliver, he's pointing to the word 'tornado.'  You know that word because it starts with a 't'" when Steve started laughing and shrugged, "I keep forgetting he's only five!"




Oliver and Mr. Steve


Our tour lasted about two hours and we could have stayed even longer.  But the boys became tired as it was their bedtime - and time to make the several hour trip back to Waco.

We are so thankful for the opportunity to get to see behind-the-scenes of the National Weather Service.  Oliver learned a ton and Brian and I were reminded how fortunate we are to have such smart and talented people watching out for the safety of those in our community.

As a way to thank the NWS meteorologists, I asked my friend Paola to make up some yummy tornado cookies.  I had no idea how amazing they would turn out to look and taste!!  Oliver and I sent a dozen cookies to the sweet meteorologists with a thank you note from me and a hand-drawn picture from Oliver:

It may be hard to see but I tried to label all of Oliver's drawing.  It was made up of several tornadoes, "lots of damage", tons of lightning, a few clouds and each of the meteorologists. :)


Thank you to Mark, Steve, Gerry and Jason for your generosity!!  Thank you for showing us what you do and teaching our little storm-chaser-in-training!!

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