WIUDOW 2 Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

The WIUDOW2 project was incredibly successful. The DOW was integrated into the GEOG 300: Weather Instruments course as one of the field projects that student groups had to complete. Students learned an incredible amount about field project planning and the need to be flexible.

One difficulty that we faced, especially during deployments where the event being observed is changing location quickly over time, is that it is hard to tell what exactly the radar is looking at. For example during the harvest project, it would have been helpful to have a way to determine when the radar was point in the right direction because the right direction kept changing based on where the moving harvester equipment was located. It might be useful to have a fisheye camera on top of the truck so that we could determine the position of the harvester and the direction of the radar at any given time. We had to poke our head through the hole in the top of the truck (with very limited visibility) or get out of the truck to see what was going on. By the time we figured out what we were looking at the image on the screen was long gone.

As mentioned by others, it would also be useful if we could look at recently recorded data so students can verify what they saw. This paired with the fisheye lens video would help a lot. Often we never did figure out what we’d seen because the signature on the screen was only there for a short time. If there was a video then we could perhaps figure it out.

One student’s project ended up being unsuccessful, but not because we didn’t get data. This student was very frustrated by the experience both in the truck and especially later because he never felt like he had enough information to determine what he was seeing. This was not the only student to become frustrated with the experience. Perhaps if we request the DOW again then I will plan to videotape the deployment (maybe recording the student/PI conversation and what is shown  on the screen at the time) in the hopes that students will find it easier to make sense of their data. Not everyone is equally equipped to look at specks on a screen and connect that to a 3-D field that varies in time outside the truck. Clear-air projects are especially difficult.

There were some data management changes from the first to the second DOW visit that may have led to more student frustration. It would help if students were allowed to take project notes in their own notebook rather than the DOW technician’s notebook so they could look at the notes right away instead of waiting for a scanned copy of the notes to get back to them. The PI and students should also have access to the data soon after the deployment instead of at the end of the DOW visit. During the first DOW visit students sent a scanned copy of their notes to the DOW technician so the students always had their notes. Students also got a copy of their data within a day or so after the deployment.  I believe these data management changes led to more frustration on the part of the students.

Overall, the second DOW visit ran more smoothly in many ways than the first. The PI was much more prepared and therefore more helpful to students in project planning and data interpretation. The DOW technician knew quite a lot about weather and data collection using the DOW and she made some great suggestions to get the best data. Getting the best data in a learning environment however, is not always the goal. Everyone involved should keep this in mind.

Meteorology majors at Western Illinois University would like to thank the Center for Sever Weather Research and the National Science Foundation for the opportunity to use the DOW radar. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of our students. Several of them are more interested in graduate school and instrumentation as a result of their experience with the DOW.