Learn meteorology: past, present and future

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Meteorologists use a wide range of instruments to measure weather conditions. At the University of California, Davis, students studying atmospheric science get an up-close look at these various instruments — some of which were first designed in the late 1800s — to gather data to predict the time.

Alexis Clouser and Brody Adams, both atmospheric science graduates, woke up several times with the sun to record weather conditions at the UC Davis climate station, located west of the main campus near Campbell Road. They are part of a rotating group of students who are tasked with visiting the station every day at 8 a.m. to collect and record data.

“It feels like you’re doing something big and part of something that’s been going on since the 1870s.” —Brody Adams

The station has historical instruments that continuously monitor atmospheric variables, including daily high and low temperatures, wind speed and direction, and precipitation. The resort has a west-facing observation deck that, on some days, offers sweeping views of the town of Winters.

“On a really clear day, you can see what looks like pretty much every mountain oak tree,” Clouser said.

UC Davis atmospheric science students Alexis Clouser and Brody Adams are among students rising with the sun to monitor campus weather at the UC Davis Weather Station. (Tiffany Dobbyn/UC Davis)

Atmospheric science professor Kyaw Tha Paw U said that according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, the UC Davis station, formerly known as the Davisville Experimental Farm station, has been in operation since 1871. Although there had some data gaps between the late 1800s and early 1900s, there are original records from the Davis Weather Station dating back to March 1906 (these can be viewed on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The UC Davis station is part of the United States Historical Climatology Network, and when observations are made on campus, the information is recorded in a database. The data is also shared with the National Weather Service, and students submit the weather to the Department of Atmospheric Sciences website each morning.

Instruments old and new

Clouser and Adams are highly skilled in manually recording readings from the station’s decades-old instruments. During each visit, they check the two liquid-in-glass thermometers, stored in a wooden enclosure, to record high and low temperatures.

“In the winter I like to see what the minimum was, it’s cool to see,” Adams said. “In the summer it’s a bit dreadful how hot it gets.”

“When we had this heat wave last July, it was around 113-114 degrees,” Clouser said.

They also examine anemometers, which measure wind direction and speed. There are two rain gauges; one electronically measures rainfall, while the other is done manually. One of the station’s oldest instruments is called a Campbell Stokes recorder, first invented in 1853. It is a glass sphere used to measure the duration of bright sunshine.

These daily weather observations not only help create short-term forecasts, but they are also important for generating future climate outlooks that are essential for farmers and water managers.

Future Weather Plans

After graduating from UC Davis, Clouser and Adams hope to land jobs at one of six National Weather Service offices in California. They both believe that their knowledge of weather forecasting using weather instruments, like those at the campus station, will help them in the future.

“It helps solidify your basic understanding of the operational weather instruments that collect your data,” Clouser said. “If you’re sitting in an NWS forecast office, it’s the instruments sending all that data to you, so it’s nice to see exactly what you’re working with.”

It also gives them the chance to be part of the weather and climate story on campus.

“It feels like you’re doing something big and part of something that’s been going on since the 1870s,” Adams said. “It’s really cool.”

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