Geology, Environment and Sustainability Hofstra Magazine

Head in the Clouds

New Weather Stations Build Interest, Curriculum In Meteorology

It’s 62 degrees, with wind speeds up to 17 miles per hour, when a band of nine students clamber up seven flights of stairs and emerge on the roof of Gittleson Hall, squinting against the sun.

Their professor hands out instruments that measure humidity (called sling psychrometers) and walks over to the weather station that sits near the edge of the roof.

The experiment begins. A few students take turns spinning the psychrometers like nunchucks. The rest scribble notes, struggling to keep their lab worksheets from blowing away.  On the ground, 10 more students gather weather data at street level. Eventually, they will check their manual readings against those of the weather station.

Watching over it all is Jase Bernhardt, the professor behind Hofstra’s first Introduction to Weather and Climate course. At the core of the new class are three campus weather stations installed in the fall of 2016 that gather and archive real-time data, take photos and record time-lapse videos.

We all experience weather, environment and sustainability. We all have an innate understanding and curiosity about it. The weather stations allow us to better understand what we see and feel. We’re living what we measure.

— Jase Bernhardt
Assistant Professor of Geology,

Environment and Sustainability

“We all experience weather,” said Bernhardt, an assistant professor of geology, environment and sustainability. “We all have an innate understanding and curiosity about it. The weather stations allow us to better understand what we see and feel. We’re living what we measure.”

The three WeatherSTEM stations are spread across campus – one sits above the soccer stadium press box, the second on the roof of Gittleson Hall, and the third in the Student Garden, near Oak Street on North Campus. Hofstra houses the only WeatherSTEM stations on Long Island, and is one of only two locations with the stations in New York state.

“Other institutions have weather stations, but none like ours,” said Dr. J Bret Bennington, chair of the Department of Geology, Environment, and Sustainability. “When people think about weather on Long Island, we want them to think Hofstra.”

All the weather stations are equipped with education-friendly features that enhance research and learning.  A one-minute cloud time lapse, for example, gives Bernhardt 20 minutes of lecture material.

In addition to a physical presence on campus, the weather stations each have their own digital footprint, with Twitter handles and Facebook pages that automatically update to provide the latest weather information.

“I remember being in elementary school and thinking that weather was the coolest thing, so I thought (the class) would be a revival of those interests. And it was,” said Emma Vaccaro ’18, who is pursuing a BA/MA in early childhood/childhood and STEM education.

As part of the class, she created a lesson plan about weather science that she taught to fifth-graders at Waverly Park Elementary School in East Rockaway, Long Island. “I’m definitely going to come out of here a more well-rounded person,” she said. “And a better teacher.”

This summer, the Department of Geology, Environment and Sustainability used weather station data in weeklong workshops with elementary and secondary school teachers across New York City and Long Island. The workshops, co-sponsored by the Greentree Foundation and Seatuck Environmental Association, were designed to help teachers become more comfortable using outdoor learning activities and multimedia in their lessons.

Bernhardt also will be using the weather stations in a new Hofstra Saturday Classes for Young People course for high schoolstudents this fall called “Intro to Meteorology: The Science Behind Your Weather App.” 

“Long Island has wild weather such as hurricanes and nor’easters,” said Robert Brinkmann, vice provost for scholarship and engagement, associate dean of graduate studies, and professor of geology, environment and sustainability. “The new weather stations will help Dr. Bernhardt and his students conduct research on the unique climate of Long Island.”

After Winter Storm Niko hit in February 2017, students were welcomed back to Bernhardt’s class with a presentation on what they just experienced the day before through a 59-second time lapse video.  Sitting in a classroom, they watched the snow accumulate on the weather station’s lens before melting away as the storm came to an end.

“I was that kid who bolted outside with a yardstick in the middle of snowstorm to measure the snowfall,” Bernhardt said. “So 5-year-old Jase was bursting when the stations were installed.”

Once the stations have collected enough data, students and faculty at Hofstra will be able to conduct more in-depth research. They can look at a year’s worth of time lapse videos, for example, and predict which days will bring different cloud formations.

New weather courses and a minor in meteorology and climatology are slated to begin in fall 2018. Several courses will be designed to appeal to a variety of majors. One, for example, will be designed for communication majors wishing to pursue broadcast meteorology. Another will be tailored to business students who have an interest in commodities trading, which is influenced by climate.

After taking the new class, geography and global studies major Carys Swan ’18, who is an avid hiker, will never take in mountaintop views quite the same again.

“I’ll be able to look at the clouds,” Swan said, “and not just see shapes in the sky.”

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