Canadian Geographic Education
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Project Atmosphere

2006 participant: Natalie Jalette

On Monday, July 16th, I was introduced to the fascinating world of American meteorology. Dr. Ira W. Geer, Director of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Education Program, welcomed seventeen secondary school teachers from across North America to the annual AMS workshop titled “Project Atmosphere”. The workshop, sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), was held at the National Weather Service Training Centre (NWSTC) in Kansas City, Missouri. I, a grade nine geography teacher from Bishop Smith Catholic High School in Pembroke, Ontario, was selected by the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) and theCanadian Geographic Education to represent Canada. I was accompanied by teachers from thirteen states, namely Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

AMS staff developed and delivered an intense, interactive fourteen-day workshop covering a variety of topics. Topics of study included: the atmosphere, oceans, solar radiation, weather, climate, weather systems, clouds, the coriolis effect, El Nino, La Nina, hazardous weather conditions, storms, lightning, hurricanes, tornados, automated surface observations systems, aerosondes, radiosondes, radar, weather satellites, satellite imagery, general forecasting, and monitoring for aviation purposes.

The topics listed above were delivered by numerous professionals in the meteorology field. Key note speakers included: Dr. Louis Uccellini, Director of the National Centre for Environmental Prediction (NCEP); Dr. Joseph Schaefer, Director of the Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma; Mr. Max Mayfield, Director of the Tropical Predication Centre in Miami, Florida; and General David L. Johnson, Director of the National Weather Service (NWS) in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Some interesting facts:

  • On average, ten hurricanes spawn in the western Atlantic Ocean each year. (NOAA, NWS, 2002)
  • Hurricane track forecasting errors have been reduced by fifty percent over the past fifty years. (Mayfield, 2006).
  • Doplar radar, which is widely used in both Canada and the United States today, was developed in Oklahoma in 1994.
  • On average, one thousand tornadoes touch down in the United States. (NOAA, NWS, 2002).
  • Tornado deaths have dropped significantly over the past fifty years, from an annual average of 350 in the year 1950 to 150 in the year 2000. (Schaefer, 2006)

Educational modules and a summary of classroom application procedures accompanied each lecture or presentation. Evening sessions allowed for collegial discussion and idea sharing. I had the opportunity to share Ontario's curricular expectations for weather and climate at a variety of grade levels. I also had the opportunity to promote weather and climate related magazines and web sites produced in Canada.

Daily presentations and lessons were further complimented by a field trip to the National Weather Service (NWS) station in Topeka, Kansas; where we had the opportunity to witness real-time surface chart and satellite imagery analysis, as well as a radiosonde launch. A second field trip occurred at the National Aviation Weather Centre in Kansas City, Missouri. Here, we had the opportunity to observe surface and upper level weather conditions via radar and satellite imagery. Meteorologists work at this facility twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It was amazing to discover that approximately 7,000 air craft are flying over North America at any given time.

In the end, my original view of meteorology and weather forecasting as an acquired art was transformed into a dynamic science based upon complex chemical, physical, and mathematical modelling.

The information and materials gathered during this two-week experience will be shared with fellow teachers and students in the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board. My goal is to increase their understanding of the science behind meteorology, promote recent technological advances, and encourage them to further explore and/or possibly pursue this evolving and influential field.

I am truly grateful to CMOS and Canadian Geographic Education for supporting my participation in the program. Hopefully, Canadian interest and participation will continue for years to come!

— Natalie Jalette

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Canadian Geographic magazine is an excellent resource for teachers and students. It provides posters in both official languages, such as the St. Lawrence Seaway map, as well as short geography related news items suitable for current events. In addition, the June issue each year is devoted to environmental issues such as wind energy.”

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