Mary Katherine Murphy Staff Writer
October 8, 2013
LAURINBURG — Some 50 Washington Park Elementary School students were left with a better understanding of what it takes to track a thunderstorm after spending class on Tuesday with meteorologist Martha Spencer.
Spencer, based in Myrtle Beach, S.C., works with WBTW News 13 and visited the school to bring a breath of fresh air to the weather unit in Cynthia Johnson’s fifth grade science class.
“We’ve been learning about the water cycle, how the water evaporates and gets in the air and how it comes down,” student Princess Blue said of the class. “We’ve learned a lot about precipitation and how the wind decides how fast the weather goes and how the seasons change.”
Spencer’s presentation included the various methods of tracking weather patterns, including satellite imaging, Doppler radar, and sending planes into the eye of a hurricane to track wind speed and air pressure.
“We have these hurricane hunters, and when the storm gets somewhat close to land, they will actually take a plane and fly it through the hurricane because they’re big enough planes,” said Spencer. “It’s not a smooth ride, but they fly through them and find a spot where they can get into the center where it’s kind of turned into a funnel.”
Spencer compared her job to piecing together a puzzle, considering the greater picture of continental weather patterns when determining the role played by a specific storm.
“You have to look at other things that are out there, not just the storm itself,” she said. “That’s what my job is: to find the things that we see in other areas and figure out which one’s stronger. You can’t just say it’s going to go one way, because it’s like a giant puzzle and you have to find the things that are going to steer it.”
One student asked how meteorologists know where to point on the maps behind them. When a meteorologist stands in front of the green screen onto which a map is projected, they can see their image in two television sets and in the reflection of a camera lens.
“If I turn this way and it looks like I’m looking at the map, I’m really looking at the TV that’s just off the camera that I’m being projected onto,” Spencer said. ” So I can see myself but it looks like I’m looking at something that’s behind me.”
Students posed several questions about everything from why weather forecasts sometimes miss the mark and why weather patterns deviate from projections.
“Since I was a kid and since your teachers were kids, we’ve gotten a lot better and technology’s gotten better at figuring out where storms are going, how fast they’re moving, and where we think they might be going,” Spencer said. “It’s still not an exact science, that’s why weather people are not always right, but don’t let your parents ever tell you that we’re guessing.”