June Monthly Faculty Highlight- Jonathan MartinJune 28, 2019
While awards and appointments attract much of the news attention, the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department has a large variety of work going on behind the scenes. As part of a new Monthly Highlights series, the AOS news page will be featuring different faculty and student projects once a month. These highlights will be showcasing published papers, community outreach events, field campaigns, Q&As on climate change and weather phenomenon, and other topics as they come up.
On the last Monday of every month, Professors Steve Ackerman and Jonathan Martin go on air to and answer questions and discuss recent weather phenomenon. The Weather Guys have covered everything from strangely shaped clouds to discussing how weather technology has changed over time. Aside from their monthly radio appearances, the Weather Guys post weekly articles to their blog and the Wisconsin State Journal.
The Weather Guys blog can be found here.
Where did the idea of the Weather Guys come from?
Sometime in the late part of the spring semester in 1998 the SSEC publicist at the time, Ms. Terri Gregory, made a call to WHA Radio and suggested that Steve and I might be part of an interesting radio show concerning weather and climate issues. Weather has always been an important issue in our state and, at the time, the climate crisis was really beginning to enter the public consciousness as well. The timing was right and we had our first show in July 1998. The column in the Wisconsin State Journal came along some years later (I think we started that in 2007 or 2008).
How do you and Professor Steve Ackerman decide on a topic for the week?
We most often consider either recent weather, perhaps weather in history as a direct or indirect player, or we very occasionally will comment on some public policy debate that involves understanding or consideration of weather or climate. Sometimes we think of a topic based on what either of us is currently working on in research or talking about in class. We try to make sure we don't repeat a topic too frequently or too close to our last comment on the same issue. The newspaper editors help us a lot with that.
What kinds of research goes into each of the segments? How long does each one take to produce?
Depending on the topic for a given week, a considerable amount of research can go into it. Sometimes when we are commenting on whether or not a particular week, month or season has been abnormal in some regard, it will take a couple of hours to track down the data that makes the case. After securing the data, the writing commences so in such cases it might be approaching 3 hours of total work. This is probably the extreme so I would guess that the average amount of time to put 250 words together on an interesting meteorological topic takes us about 1 to 2 hours.
What kinds of topics do you enjoy answering?
We enjoy answering any topic because most weeks we have to make up our own question and it can get tiring! I would estimate that only 5% of our columns have been directly prompted by a question from the readers. Despite this grim statistic, alot of people do tell us that they are regular readers of our short column.
What has been one of the strangest asks you have received?
I don't have a very good memory about this kind of thing. I do recall that one time a reader was interested in knowing if there really is anything to the old local sense that there is a snowstorm that coincides with the Boys State Basketball Championship in March. The answer is that it occurs about half the time - nowhere near as prevalent as local legend might have you believe.
What do you think has been the most important impact of the Weather Guys?
I think there are two really important services provided by the show. The first is perhaps the most obvious - we talk about a topic that a lot of people have at least a casual interest in discussing, the weather. Sometimes a weather phenomenon that one witnesses stays in one's mind for a very long time in search of explanation or a chance to talk excitedly about it. The show provides one outlet for that energy and the column perhaps helps to sustain a level of interest in the weather among the general population that really sets our science apart from nearly all other physical sciences. People make daily contact with the weather in very visceral ways and the show and column engage that conversation.
The second important benefit of the show is that it may help people to view science, and scientists, in a more human way than they might otherwise. Steve and I very clearly enjoy what we do professionally but I think we also come across as people with other active interests and that helps us to demonstrate that scientists are just regular people with a particular interest in the physical world. I think it also allows our fellow Wisconsinites to make a weekly contact with some of the scholarship that is going on at this fantastic university. In an era when a substantial amount of energy has been spent demonizing intellectuals and universities, we get a chance to fight back against that distressing effort and remind people, at least in a small way, that the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a miracle worth preserving and nurturing.
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