Community Education and Scientific Engagement of Tornadic Environments
2015-2016 State Farm Youth Advisory Board Service-Learning Grants
- Columbus Municipal School District – Students of Columbus High School and Columbus Middle School
- Dr. Mike Brown – Professor at Mississippi State University and State Climatologist
- Deborah Pounders – Science Teacher at Columbus Middle School
- Increase community awareness and safety during severe weather and tornado threats.
- Provide climate data to the National Weather Service.
- Train students in scientific data collection and communication.
Columbus, Mississippi, located in east-central Mississippi is considered to be a “Very High Risk” city with respect to tornadoes. Columbus, MS is in the heart of Dixie Alley (a region in the southern U.S. with an annual tornado occurrence similar to classic tornado alley (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas)). In fact, since 1950 there have been 154 tornadoes within 30 miles of the city and more recently since 2000, there have been 71 tornadoes within 30 miles of the city. Unfortunately, these tornadoes have killed 60 individuals and injured over 900.
With that in mind, this project has two main goals.
First, this project will train and utilize our middle- and high-school students in the preparation and dissemination of educational/information materials related to storms and storm safety for the city of Columbus, MS and surrounding communities. Students will prepare flyers for distribution, a PowerPoint presentation for oral presentations to schools and civic organizations and a video for public distribution, utilizing Mississippi State Universities Broadcast Meteorology facilities. Students will be trained by Meteorologists (professors and National Weather Service personnel) and these experts will help with the organization of all published education materials. The students will also generate material appropriate to persons with visual and/or hearing disabilities (populations often neglected during the storm warning process). Additionally, once trained, students will deliver their peer based presentations to other schools in surrounding communities as well as community organizations and civic leaders. The students will evaluate the effectiveness of their presentations through pre- and post-surveys.
Second, students will engage in scientific data collection which will be shared with the National Weather Service for inclusion in their forecasts and watch and warning products. On days in which severe weather is expected students will release weather balloons from the school. These balloons will carry a sensor package that provides temperature, moisture, wind direction and wind speed data to a computer. These data are used to determine possible storm strength and the storm threats (i.e. hail, wind, and/or tornadoes). Once a balloon launch has concluded the students will upload the data to the National Weather Service. Mississippi State University currently provides similar data to the National Weather Service and will train our students in the use of the equipment. These data have been used for both the inclusion and exclusion from a tornado watch. Data that would support the inclusion within a tornado watch, would help ensure that a community prepared for a possible natural disaster, saving lives.