Class and peers help student take top honors in weather forecasting competition

Prescott Embry-Riddle Student Camden Plunkett holds WxChallenge awards.

The 2015-16 WxChallenge national competition culminated in April with Embry-Riddle Prescott sophomore Camden Plunkett taking first place in the Freshman/Sophomore university student category and seventh place overall. The Embry-Riddle Prescott team finished 19th overall.

“I’m surprised and really proud to have won the competition in my category and to have done so well,” said Plunkett. “I definitely used my forecasting knowledge from weather class combined with some good luck, but I couldn’t have done this without the help of Dr. James and Tony Nguyen.”

“I just love meteorology. It’s one of two things I’ve always been interested in — meteorology and airplanes. It’s why Embry-Riddle is such a perfect fit for me. I’m really proud to attend here and to have brought this win to the school.”

Camden Plunkett

Plunkett dedicated over an hour each day during the 10-week competition to studying the model outputs and reviewing the weather for competition of each city in order to make his predictions. During the competition, he took best overall during the New Orleans, LA challenge and second in the freshman/sophomore category for the Green Bay, WI challenge which helped him rise to the top.

“I just love meteorology. It’s one of two things I’ve always been interested in — meteorology and airplanes. It’s why Embry-Riddle is such a perfect fit for me,” said Plunkett. “I’m really proud to attend here and to have brought this win to the school.”

Dr. Curtis James, Department Chair of Applied Aviation Sciences and professor in Meteorology, acknowledges the hard work of Plunkett and team.

“The WxChallenge is a huge contest, with close to 2,000 competitors in North America participating. Those who compete are students, staff and faculty in academia, as well as meteorologists in the government and the private sector. We are proud of our meteorology students who competed so well this year, especially Camden. It is a distinct pleasure having Camden in our Applied Meteorology Program here at Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus!”

Find out more about Applied Meteorology at Embry-Riddle’s Prescott campus.

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Bright futures are in the forecast for these Meteorology students

Embry-Riddle Prescott’s Applied Meteorology students prepare for WxChallenge

Beat the computer. That’s the goal of operational meteorologists and Embry-Riddle Prescott’s Applied Meteorology students who are learning to beat computer-based forecasting models while competing with over 1,500 other participants in the WxChallenge. In fact, two of the participants are currently on track to compete in a final national tournament in April 2016.

Embry-Riddle Prescott’s Applied Meteorology students prepare for WxChallenge“Forecasting is the most important part of Operational Meteorology,” said Tony Nguyen, second-time competitor and senior in Applied Meteorology, minoring in Air Traffic Management and seeking Emergency Response Meteorologist certification. “The competition is fun and it’s a great opportunity to use the skills we’ve learned in class. Competing like this pushes you to improve your skills as a forecaster under pressure just like professional meteorologists.”

WXChallenge is the North American collegiate weather competition held every fall and spring semester. The goal is to forecast the maximum and minimum temperatures, precipitation and maximum wind speeds at specified locations in the U.S. for four consecutive days, posting forecasts six hours in advance of each day during a 10-week period. The goal is to match the predicted forecast to the actual observed weather conditions and beat the National Weather Service (NWS) computer model guidance and other forecasters. The competition is fierce and complex.

“Most people don’t realize what goes into forecasting,” said Nguyen. “In this competition, most of us have never been to any of these places. I find it helpful to look at the climatology and terrain maps to make my forecasts. Weather models from the computer plus humans are the most accurate.”

Embry-Riddle Prescott’s Applied Meteorology students prepare for WxChallengeFeeding the data points of a specific location into the modeling software is the first step of forecasting. The data points include climate norms, recent weather and geographic characteristics such as mountain ranges that would affect weather patterns. Atmospheric observations of current weather from weather stations, weather balloons, and weather satellites are added. The outcome is a Model Output Statistic (MOS) prediction. Finally a trained Meteorologist analyzes the MOS and fine-tunes it based on experience and personal research of the area, often times under time-sensitive deadlines.

The first step to weather forecasting is Interpreting the combination of forces and processes in the atmosphere in the context of the climate and geography of a given location. As part of this process, students examine a variety of available weather observations from weather stations, weather balloons, and radar and satellite imagery. Once they arrive at a preliminary estimate of forecast values, they fine-tune their forecasts based on a variety of automated forecasting products and model output statistics (MOS). Students also benefit from the fact that Embry-Riddle is the first university in the country to provide the NWS’s operational weather forecasting software (AWIPS II) in the cloud so that students may access this guidance from just about anywhere that Internet connectivity is available.

Nguyen experienced AWIPS II and other operational forecasting practices first-hand last summer on an internship with the San Diego National Weather Service office. As a result, he has set his career goal on Operational Meteorology with Incident Meteorology as the focus.

“The best part of the internship was helping forecasters put out weather warnings in times of weather events. These warnings needed to go out fast so people could prepare, especially the first responders and police trying to keep everyone safe,” said Nguyen. “My job was getting ground truth from real-time location-specific weather spotters for the meteorologists. Bent light poles, flash floods – it was high energy and exciting! It made me happy to stay one step ahead of the evolving weather and I feel like Embry-Riddle really helped prepare me for it all.”

Meteorology faculty and team mentors, Dr. Dorothea Ivanova and Dr. Curtis James, are pleased with the students’ performance thus far in the annual competition.

“Embry-Riddle’s team is competing very well compared to the 54 other schools registered,” said James. “As a team, we have been as high as fifth place this semester with individual students as high as 28th place overall this semester. Students are having a great time and I’m proud of them. Opportunities like the WxChallenge and summer internships set our students on a great career path.”

For more information on the WxChallenge or the Applied Meteorology program, contact Dr. Curtis James at james61c@erau.edu.