Science of weather on display at Exploratorium

(KGO)
March 16, 2012 7:24:24 PM PDT
The technology for predicting weather is improving all the time, but when most people hear the forecast, they probably don't give much to the research behind it or the people literally risking their lives to find out more.

The science of weather is on display in San Francisco.

"You can see the updraft," Paul Doherty explained. A simulated tornado is one of the Exploratorium's most popular exhibits. "The children can get into it and any exhibit that involves you personally is a great exhibit."

For the next week, visitors will have even more opportunities to get involved in weather as the Exploratorium focuses on the science of severe storms. You can actually feel the electricity in the air. "I felt some kind of tingly sensation all around here," one woman said, circling her head with her hands.

The severe weather exhibit is a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, known as NOAA. That is the agency that operates storm-chasing vehicles, seeking out weather most people want to avoid, trying to get close, but not too close. "You have to have an exit strategy," graduate student Sean Waugh told ABC7. He helps put together those vehicles and one of them is on display now at the Exploratorium.

High-tech weather instruments on top feed data into a computer system built into the floor. "So, we can actually monitor the data in real time and see what the wind, and the pressure, and all of that stuff is doing," Waugh explained. The exhibit features dramatic video and photos taken by the storm chasers during their research. "There's a lot of information contained in just the shape of the storm and how the storm looks," Waugh says.

Hail is actually one of the most dangerous things they face. Some is big, some has spikes, and it can come down hard. "It would be like making an ice cube the size of a grapefruit and then throwing it out of an airplane," Waugh says. The hood of the vehicle is covered with battle scars caused by hail and that is not the worst of it. "The windshields have been replaced a number of times and that kind of hailstone can break bones. It can kill you if you're out, exposed to it," he says.

All these weather exhibits are a preview of what is to come next year. The Exploratorium is opening a new building on the waterfront where they will collaborate with NOAA on cutting-edge weather research.

The Exploratorium is featuring weather exhibits through March 25 and this Sunday, they host a special "Severe Storms Day" with all kinds of demonstrations, talks, and tours.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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