A few days before the forecast of Utah’s severe and widespread windstorm on Sept. 8, 2020, Eric McNamee, atmospheric science student and director of Utah Weather Center, had the idea to launch a weather instrument called a radiosonde to study the downsloping wind event.
A radiosonde is an atmospheric instrument, carried by a balloon to higher levels of the atmosphere and measures pressure, temperature, and humidity and transmits them by radio.
“I wanted to get a profile of the atmosphere to see how fast the winds were going,” McNamee said.
With support from the faculty chair of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, John Horell, McNamee began planning the launch and onboarded two other atmospheric sciences colleagues and weather researchers: James Powell and Andrew Park.
At sunrise on Sept. 8 , the students set up at the mouth of Red Butte Canyon, where the winds were predicted to be the strongest in the Salt Lake Valley.
After launching two radiosondes, the students were in their car taking shelter decoding the data from the radio transmitter and reported that the winds were up to 90 mph. “As we were sitting in the car, the gusts were violent, we weren’t sure if we were going to make it home safely,” Park said.
“Our prediction of strong winds came true, we just didn’t know they would be this strong,” McNamee said.
“We are hoping this data can help the community for future severe weather events like this and assist researchers in understanding serious impacts of windstorms,” Powell said.
Find this article and a lot more in the 2021 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers, and entrepreneurs.