University pairs new weather station with localized meteorology course this fall


Christa Spears will not be chasing tornadoes or leading her hurricane chaser class this fall. She plans to keep her distance as much as possible, but that might not be possible in Houston.

“I have a lot of respect for Mother Nature,” smiles the associate professor of geology.

The Jersey girl who got her doctorate. in Earth Sciences from Boston University and raised on the East Coast has already suffered a fair amount of bad weather. His curiosity will now be satisfied alongside his students at Lone Star College’s University Park campus with a first of its kind in the systems meteorology class.

With a recently installed weather station on campus and a stream gauge in their local ravine, students can experience the weather forecast firsthand.

“Now our students will be able to see it scientifically, thanks to the new weather station and the knowledge they will gain in the meteorology course,” said Shah Ardalan, president of Lone Star College-University Park.

“Our teachers are known to bring innovation and new classroom learning opportunities to our students,” he added. “We provide ‘place-based’ learning in localizing the subject of meteorology for our students who live, work and learn in our community. This is another example of how we are the quorum of the community.

Spears’ expertise is in the earth sciences — climate, oceans and atmosphere.

She came to Houston to work in oil and gas and spent seven years with ExxonMobil.

After having children, she moved to academia in 2015 and enjoys the brand of community colleges by working with non-majors and connecting them between high school and four-year-olds.

Geology is one of those compulsory courses for an associate’s degree.

“I’ve never been really interested in rocks and minerals,” she said. “What I have found fascinating are earth systems, natural hazards and hurricanes.”

Before Harvey hit, she was busy monitoring USGS flow gauges during the Tax Day and Memorial Day floods, predicting what would happen.

“I live in a floodplain, so during Harvey, I pulled out a flow meter and measured the speed of the water,” she said. “My husband is also a geologist and he was yelling at me to collect more data. Collect more data! ” she laughed.

Spears and his department head lobbied and were accepted into the core program, meaning that for non-majors looking to earn an associate’s degree, meteorology is now a transferable course at a major university. University Park is the only campus in the system to offer courses.

“We don’t really have a lot of rocks here in Houston, but we have big natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes,” she said. “It is important that our community is aware of this and can prepare for it.

Classroom studies examine the atmosphere and include the chemistry and physics of why the weather does what it does, forecasting, analyzing what is in the air, pollution, and climate change.

“It’s about understanding the complexities of weather forecasting,” she said. “Students can get their hands on data collection. Instead of just looking at that data or data, students have the opportunity to get their own data and understand the complexity of the data, then understand how to read graphs, perform mathematical equations, and model the weather ahead. They will be their own meteorologist for this semester, ”she said.

The equipment was installed in March and has been calibrated and is currently providing data which is also publicly available.

“When students take the course and learn to download data, manipulate it, and graph it, they can actually come back and use more data after the course is over,” she said.

Measurers are part of their physical geology and oceanography courses.

“We would eventually like to partner with the Harris County Flood Control District and have our data integrated into their larger network,” she said.

“Our students learn about the weather, where the data comes from, why flooding is such a danger and what we can do to mitigate the danger,” she said.

Spears said a light bulb lights up for students as they see how large volumes of rising water become powerful enough to reshape the landscape.

“The speed of water can be so strong that it could literally move a house,” the professor said.

While they don’t have access to the physical USGS rain gauges, having theirs on campus allows students to get their hands on the tool itself and visualize the data collection process.

“We look at the hydrographs in class and compare them to the precipitation. We are looking at the lag time and determining the drainage basin and how the stream systems work in relation to rainfall events, ”she said.

Installing the weather station just before the onset of hurricane season will allow Spears to educate his students on why the Gulf of Mexico is fertile ground for hurricanes, understand their tracks and what drives them. .

She has a vision on how to expand the program as the classes grow.

“At a community college, we’re limited to what classes we can offer our students, but in terms of growth, I want to expand our program to partner with the Harris County Flood Control District, city media meteorologists, and expand this local network and show our students the employment opportunities available to them, ”she said.

These careers, she said, are available right here in the city and the suburbs and she wants these opportunities to develop for her students.

“We want to develop these experiences for our students at local broadcast stations, NASA, the National Weather Service and the private sector,” she said to allow them to see with their own eyes what it is like. to be a scientist.

Spears said the weather station and stream gauge collect weather information such as stream depth and temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, dew point, humidity, precipitation and temperature.

Those interested in learning more about the new flow gauge, weather station, and weather course should contact Christa Spears at [email protected] More information is also available at

[email protected]


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