Student forecasters cover the Mitten’s middle

Group focuses on hands-on work, collaboration

| Author: Eric Baerren | Media Contact: Aaron Mills

A registered student organization wants to help you decide whether to grab an umbrella or warmer coat before you leave the house.

Mid-Mitten Weather View posts weather forecasts to social media every day with that goal in mind.

The organization was founded in 2021 to give meteorology students hands-on experience in crafting forecasts and practice communication with the public, said Marty Baxter, a Central Michigan University meteorology faculty and adviser to the group.

The Internet’s interactive nature means that meteorologists can no longer just deliver a forecast, he said. They need to communicate with people directly. That might involve answering questions or explaining atmospheric factors causing a storm.

Meteorologists also need to veer away from sensationalized language, Baxter said. Forecasts are now couched in terms of what is most likely instead of the most extreme outcomes possible.

Student-crafted forecasts

Mid-Mitten’s forecast team creates its own forecasts using computer-generated models, said Isaac Cleland, who recently finished two years as the group’s president.

While the group pays particularly close attention to Isabella County, the forecasts cover 28 counties starting along the I-94 corridor in southern Michigan going north to Clare.

Forecasters typically use anywhere from four to eight models in crafting a forecast, depending on whether they’re building short-term or long-term forecasts, he said.

There’s a collaborative element, too.

Forecasters build on the work of other Mid-Mitten team members. Communication between forecasters prevents a seven-day forecast published on Monday from being completely different from a seven-day forecast published on Sunday.

Everyone plays their own individual role in creating consistent forecasts.

“It’s like an orchestra,” said Scott Thomas, who, until recently, was the group’s vice president.

Mid-Mitten’s first forecast was a seven-day outlook from March 7-13, 2021, posted to Facebook and Instagram. The group has since joined Twitter and created a YouTube channel for practice forecasts.

The group now posts three types of forecasts: a seven-day, a tonight/tomorrow and a daily.

When severe weather threatens, especially winter storms, the group hosts Facebook Live events where they can provide more precise data. The closer the storm gets, the more precise the information they can provide.

Advances in meteorology technology allow forecasters to provide accurate information, including how long a rain shower will last.

Impact through partnerships

Shortly after becoming a registered student organization in 2022, they formed their first community partnership with Mount Pleasant’s daily newspaper, The Morning Sun. The group writes weekly forecast stories that are published every Monday.

Other collaborations followed. The group has provided weather information to CMU athletics and the department that handles landscaping to assist with snow removal. Mid-Mitten has also provided forecasting data to Mount Pleasant’s city youth sports program.

Their latest partnership is with Mlive, a statewide media outlet. Baxter had approached the company about doing forecasts. They instead offered to create a standing internship.

Cleland was the first. He wrote two stories a day, one a daily weather outlook and an educational piece that explains how weather works.

Baxter said that MLive told him that Cleland’s work generated 1 million page views in seven weeks.

Baxter said that creating a student-driven forecast group was a longtime goal of his. The original group of five students had the right mix of passion for forecasting and creating the framework for the organization.

Two of that group graduated in May and had jobs waiting for them. Cleland joined ABC 12's weather team. Thomas went to work for the National Weather Service’s Grand Rapids office, a place known for employing CMU alums.

But it’s not about just getting people employed.

“We want great people who are going to make the field better,” Baxter said.

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