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Wired for the weather

New electronic wall map to improve the way meteorology students learn


The days of studying paper weather maps are now over for Central Michigan University meteorology students.

The meteorology program recently completed installation of an electronic weather map wall that shows current and future weather forecasted by meteorologists and computer models from across the country.

Custom built by CMU carpenters, electricians and Office of Information Technology personnel, the 16 23-inch monitors are automatically updated numerous times throughout the day to reflect changing weather conditions. Each monitor loops through multiple types of data, allowing the entire wall to display the equivalent of more than 40 individual Web pages of graphics.

"The map wall allows students to easily compare different types of data," said Marty Baxter, associate professor of meteorology. "For example, we can examine the locations of surface fronts and jet streams along with the clouds and precipitation they are associated with."

The electronic map wall will be instrumental to students as they create three-day forecasts this fall as part of a junior-level class assignment and for the nationwide WxChallenge, a weather forecasting competition between colleges in North America where students vy for the most accurate weather forecast in select U.S. cities over a ten-week period.

Meteorology faculty plan to use the map wall as a teaching tool in their classes by using its real-time data to help illustrate examples of theoretical concepts and to help analyze odd weather patterns, such as the current cold spell this July.

According to Baxter, so far July has been about three degrees colder than the average summer.

"This winter featured the second highest maximum ice coverage on the Great Lakes. When we examine the summers after the five iciest winters, we see that the summers are about 1.5 degrees below average," he said. "And if forecasts of an imminently developing El Niño event materialize, historical events suggest that temperatures across the Great Lakes this winter will be above normal."

CMU is the only Michigan university with an undergraduate degree in meteorology. The program, which meets the requirements of the National Weather Service, produces graduates that have the technical skills necessary to practice operational meteorology or to enter graduate programs in atmospheric science. Several alumni are lead meteorologists at major television stations across the state and around the world. ​

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