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Education and experience lead meteorology student to mountaintop internship

November 3, 2016

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Meteorology graduate Tim Greene clears ice from weather observation equipment during his internship at the Mount Washington Observatory.

When most people think of ideal summer weather -- snow, ice, and winds in excess of 100 miles per hour usually aren't part of the equation.

But for Tim Greene, of Princeton, Massachusetts, who earned his bachelor’s in meteorology from the College of Natural Resources and Environment in May, those conditions made for the perfect summer.

Greene completed a three-month internship at New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Observatory, a private, nonprofit institution dedicated to weather and climate research and education. Located at 6,288 feet above sea level, the site is famous for extreme weather conditions, and scientists have been recording hourly weather observations there since 1932.

“A meteorology student getting to intern at Mount Washington would be like an aerospace engineering student interning at the International Space Station," said Advanced Instructor David Carroll of the Department of Geography, where the meteorology program is based.

Greene worked on research using an ultrasonic anemometer, a device that uses sonar to measure wind velocity. He was tasked with testing the instruments to determine whether they were an efficient choice to use with Mount Washington’s databases.

“I helped determine a range of temperatures in which we could rely on these instruments and helped develop equations to calculate when wind speed and temperature were such that we might need to consider switching to another instrument,” Greene said.

In addition to calculations and experiments, Greene also conducted his own observations.

“I was known for being upstairs in the weather room anywhere from 5 to 6 in the morning until 7 in the evening, always keeping myself busy with some new project or idea,” he said. “I really got to experience everything Mount Washington had to offer in terms of extreme weather.”

According to Carroll, Greene’s experiences in Virginia Tech’s meteorology program made him an ideal candidate for the internship. Now in its fourth year, it is the only undergraduate-level meteorology degree program in Virginia. Beginning with only one instructor and one tenure-track faculty member, the program attracted more than 100 students within the first year.

The meteorology program complements Virginia Tech’s existing strength in geospatial information technology by combining geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing with traditional atmospheric meteorology. While most other programs look primarily at atmospheric patterns, geospatial technology allows students to consider how landforms affect weather patterns.

“The way we’ve designed our program with extensive experience in GIS makes our students very attractive to any environmental or Earth science organization,” Carroll said.

In addition to incorporating interdisciplinary skills, the meteorology program also offers a wide variety of hands-on experiences for students. Greene recalled the work he did with Carroll at Bald Knob near Virginia’s Mountain Lake, where a team installed a weather station in February. The weather station is one of six planned for high-altitude points around the region, and the extreme weather data collected there is being transmitted to the National Weather Service.

“I helped install all the equipment on the summit and created an algorithm to measure wind speed,” Greene said. “Everything I did at Bald Knob was very similar to the work I was involved in at Mount Washington, so it prepared me really well.”

Carroll explained that having this type of undergraduate research experience made Greene particularly suited for this internship. “A lot of these undergrads are doing field work more typical of people in graduate school. You really learn the most when you’re immersed in the field.”

“Your chances of being struck by lightning are probably greater than getting this internship, but Tim had experience that typical undergrads don’t get,” Carroll said. “These students are landing jobs right out of school that some people would strive to cap their careers on.”

For Greene, that practical field experience paid off. Now working on his master’s in geography at Virginia Tech, he hopes to continue a relationship with the Mount Washington Observatory as part of his master’s thesis and has plans to visit the site this winter. “I cannot thank the observatory and my coworkers there enough for the once-in-a-lifetime experience I was given, and I look forward to any future collaboration on my thesis,” he said.

“I grew up with Mount Washington on the horizon, and I heard stories about the extreme weather up there. It was an amazing experience to actually work there,” Greene added. “Virginia Tech allowed me to hit the ground running, and I could apply all the concepts I learned in undergrad to my work.”

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