Weather can change in the blink of an eye, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. When it's for the worse, the weather can have severe repercussions, and more than 100 Howard County ninth-graders learned about how to predict, prepare for and recover from an extreme weather event Wednesday, March 13 at the Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock.
"Weather impacts us: local economy, our safety, our lives," said Ann Strozyk, an environmental educator for the Conservancy and the Howard County Public School System. "We hope to take what they learn in school, use it as a foundation, and then take their learning to the next level with this. Here, they're looking at climate and weather in a different, real way."
Throughout the day at the Weather to the Extreme Conference, students from Glenelg, Howard, Atholton, Wilde Lake and Marriotts Ridge high schools rotated among six hands-on learning stations with representatives from Baltimore Gas and Electric, Bartlett Trees, TerraLogos Energy Group, REI, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Northrop Grumman and the University of Maryland Extension Service.
"To be able to come, engage in discourse with students from other schools and with experts in the community … it increases the affect of students toward science and toward learning in general," said Mary Weller, secondary science coordinator for county schools. "We don't expect them to all become meteorologists, but we do want them to understand how nature impacts them, and how they impact nature. … We want them to be able to navigate the world that awaits them."
The keynote speaker was WBAL-TV meteorologist Ava Marie, who said her love of weather, plus her interest in science, led to her current career.
"I became interested in weather when I was really young, so I know how important it is to educate these kids when they're really young because it could encourage them, or inspire them, to become a scientist down the road," she said, observing a presentation from NOAA where students threw water balloons at a board of nails and let the water collect in rain meters. "This is about inspiring the future scientists."
The event — designed to resemble a "real" science conference — has been in the works since September, Strozyk said. Weller said it was the first event of its kind in Howard County, and would happen again in coming years with different high schools.
"It's an appropriate topic that naturally lends itself to what the kids are studying," Weller said. "It's an approachable part of science."
After lunch, students viewed a demonstration from BGE linemen and learned about the dangers of live wires. After touching several materials to a live wire to see what does and does not conduct energy, BGE's Greg Johnson put a raw hot dog against a wire — because a hot dog "is the closest thing we have to flesh for this (demonstration)" — the hot dog was cooked all the way through, with entry and exit marks from the electric burns. Inside, where the current went through, the hot dog was charred black.
"Electricity is not forgiving," he said. "Electricity does not leave injuries. It leaves fatalities."
Students said they were excited to get out of the classroom and see the different opportunities available in science.
"At (the Northrop Grumman station), we talked about radar and sensors, and how to use engineering to track the weather," said Rohit Ramnani, a freshman at Wilde Lake. "It was all about computer science and programming, which is what I want to do in the future, so it's interesting to see that you can help track storms doing what I want to do."
More than learning about careers, students came away with a new understanding of the weather they experience every day.
"I kind of used to be indifferent to it," said Daniel Adegbesan, 14, a freshman at Howard. "But now I know it's something that makes a difference. It matters."