Student Eye on the Storms
UMD Weather Members Offer Forecasts With Flair
A day ahead before Hurricane Florence crashed into the North Carolina shore, a pair of Terps seeking predictions of its impacts on campus could have turned on WTOP or checked the Weather Channel app. Instead they asked Greta Easthom ’19.
She’s one of the 16 weather junkies behind UMD Weather, a student organization that compiles information from sources like the National Weather Service and translates it in a student-friendly way on its website and social media. Their witty and relatable posts are inspired by The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, which emphasizes entertainment and accuracy in its coverage.
“Our job isn’t just to convey the information—you can get that from an app or another website,” said Alaina Froh ‘19. “We want to convey it in a way that people can understand and that they’re actually going to read.”
Earlier this month, Deirdre Dolan ’19 linked the Bangles’ “Manic Monday” video to her weather report on a rainy start to the week. In another post, Froh wrote, “As syllabus week classes breeze by, many Terps are wishing the weather would do the same.”
Learning to communicate information in an interesting way will be crucial for building a career as a weather forecaster, said the group’s undergraduate academic supervisor, Tim Canty, an associate research professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science. Most of the club members are pursuing that major.
“We have to strive to find ways to get a point across in ways that people can readily understand,” he said. “A little bit of humor helps with that.”
UMD Weather tweets updates to more than 900 followers and has been mentioned on Twitter by professional meteorologists at organizations including the Capital Weather Gang, WTOP and AccuWeather.
Dolan and Easthom, who hope to pursue careers in weather, caution that errors are bound to occur because they are not professionals, yet.
“There’s always going to be a degree of uncertainty – this can happen with professional sources too,” said Easthom. “We’re always working to narrow down that cone of uncertainty.”
UMD Weather forecasts and writes weather articles daily, but its work gets the most attention when storms like Florence are expected to trouble the community.
“Whenever people think there’s a chance school could be canceled or that their daily life is going to be altered, that’s when I notice I get questions from people,” she said.
While Hurricane Florence ultimately brought unthreatening showers, the mere possibility of devastation meant busier days and nights for members of UMD Weather, said Dolan. They don’t mind—weather is fascinating to study.
“If it’s raining, not only does it affect plans, but it affects mood,” Froh said. “It’s important to put information out there so people know what to expect.”