For the first few weeks of the Spring ‘15 semester, Stony Brook University was subjected to a blitzkrieg of bad weather. The week before school was supposed to start, the media was advertising Winter Storm Juno as the “storm of the century” with up to 30 inches of snow accumulation and winds over 40 miles per hour. Reporters were out in the field before the first flakes hit the ground and were commenting even while most statistics said New York would not be hit as hard as New England.
SBU Weather, a social media suite of forecasts hosted by the Stony Brook Meteorology Club, posted a much more subdued version of the storm over Facebook, with constant and clear updates of how the storm would affect Stony Brook campus. They even posted that when the first two days of classes were cancelled, the Union erupted in a cheer.
“It was certainly not the storm of the century, a lot of meteorologists took the worst case scenario, and I’m not sure why. We knew it would just be a narrow band,” said President of the Meteorology Club and leader on the SBU Weather project Michael Colbert. When asked if he thought the news sites knew it would not be as bad as predicted, Colbert laughed. “Well I hope they knew,” he said.
Colbert strolls around in a sweatshirt and sweatpants, a change from the slick black suit he wore for a few on the forecasts for the SB Newsbreak. The only reminder of that same man were his glasses and his amiable face.
“I’m pretty much addicted to weather,” he said. “When theres a lot of homework to get done and theres a storm coming, the storm is my priority. Even during class when i see a heavy storm coming, I just walk outside, you know, pretend I’m going to the bathroom.”
When Colbert first came to Stony Brook, the idea for personalized weather reports were already in his head, having posted weather reports on his own facebook page for over 7 years. “I started it my freshman year, and one of my first goals was ‘wouldn’t it be cool if nobody was ever surprised by the weather again?’ Even with a rain shower we could put on an alert 30 minutes before it happened and say ‘bring out the umbrellas if you’re headed to class.”
Starting with only a few members of the meteorology club, the first attempt at this idea was renovating the old and outdated website. But even then the word did not seem to get out, so now all focus has been put on social media.
“Social media has only been growing,” said professor and faculty advisor to the Meteorology Club Dr. Brian Colle. The primarily student driven project, he says, is a means of having a voice for students before, during and after bad weather occurs.
“Social media is a real nice way of getting the word out,” Colle said.
The Meteorology club uses a multitude of data to come to their conclusions. Computer models are developed by grad students using the two weathers stations at Stony Brook, one on top of the Three Village Soccer Club building next to South P, and another on top of the Health Sciences building, one of the highest points in the surrounding area. They aggregate data from the National Center for Environmental Prediction in Maryland as well as the european model for tracking storms. The Meteorology club also has enough base knowledge of how weather usually interacts with Stony Brook and uses all the previous information to create one simple forecast.
“Our primary goal is to make accurate forecasts,” Colbert said.
In October of last year, the Meteorology club partnered with SB News to create a new forecasting section to the SB Newsbreak broadcast. The main driver behind the collaboration was Vice President of the Meteorology club, Charlie Argento.
“It was my dream to do it before I even came here,” Argento said. Working with Journalism professor Jonathan Sanders, both Argento and Colbert have appeared on the broadcast. The number of club members have grown from 4 or 5 to 25 over the past few years.
Colbert honestly believes that his forecasts are some of the most accurate. “It sounds kind of arrogant, but we know what time the majority of people are waking up, we know when the majority of people are heading out to class, we know when the majority of people are on Nicolls road, so we put our forecast out for those periods when people most need them.”
Putting the magnifying glass to Stony Brook and the surrounding area while focusing on students and faculty allows SBU Weather to tailor its information to those select groups of people, while avoiding having to make large scale predictions without having all the data first.
“Were not obligated to put out a 5 day forecast, so if we’re uncertain about something, we don’t even mention it until we get a better idea. The majority of us aren’t deciding if we have to have 50 sanitation trucks with salt, we don’t have to prepare so far in advance. For the most part we just need to know about the next few hours and tomorrow.”
SBU Weather has over 900 likes on facebook and 165 followers over Twitter, and they have seen significant growth in early 2015. Enough Monday’s have seen foul weather for SBU Weather to coin the term “Messy Mondays.” These mondays saw growth spikes in the number of likes and followers these pages gained. Winter Storm Juno saw the largest growth for SBU Weather at that point, gaining over 100 likes in one day.
January and February 2015 have seen a host of cold, biting wind, snow and freezing rain. The layers of snow grew until you could almost trace the dates of foul weather in the side of the snow like rings in a tree trunk. At the time of writing this article, it is cold outside, and SBU Weather warns it will get colder. There is the expectation for more snow.
At this point, it’s unlikely anything will be called the “storm of the century.”
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