by Becky Holcomb, staff writer
If you see a UFO over the garden cabin, do not be alarmed. Those white orbs in the sky are actually weather balloons. They are used for the weather reports being conducted on Warren Wilson campus through a partnership with UNC Asheville.
Doug Miller, Associate Professor of atmospheric sciences at UNCA, works with his crew launching weather balloons to study ice and snow storms down by the garden.
This is done by launching the balloons every three hours during a storm to observe the vertical profiles of temperature and moisture in the atmosphere.
According to Miller, “The location at Warren Wilson College was the best location to have a good hope at ‘seeing’ the cold air associated with ice storms while being far enough away from the city to allow our weather balloons to ascend without getting snagged on power lines or buildings.” These studies started in 2006 in other locations, but since 2010 have been conducted at Wilson.
Miller utilizes the garden cabin and barn to store equipment and inflate the weather balloons. His findings are posted on the web in text and graphs for the National Weather Service; this information is also available for surrounding areas such as South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee. The project started off as a proposal from the NWS office in Greer, South Carolina and is federally funded through a grant. Currently, these studies are managed through UNC Asheville’s atmospheric studies department without any involvement from Warren Wilson students.
However, Miller is interested in expanding this program into a class designed for k-12 science teachers as well as atmospheric science majors and will be submitting a proposal to the National Science Foundation.
Miller’s connection with Professor David Abernathy will hopefully create an opportunity for Warren Wilson students to be more involved while continuing to benefit the larger community.