APU Environmental Exploring STEM Podcast

Podcast: Insights into Meteorology and Atmospheric Science

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Podcast featuring Dr. Kandis Boyd WyattFaculty Member, Transportation and Logistics and
Dr. Lorenza Cooper, faculty member, STEM

Meteorology is an ever-changing and fascinating field that affects so many areas of life. In this episode, hear from APU professor Dr. Lorenza Cooper about his passion for studying weather events and why he believes students of all disciplines should have a better understanding of atmospheric science. Also learn about his strategy for discussing climate change, career opportunities for those interested in meteorology including interdisciplinary work with the Space Force, and the university’s expanding course offerings so students can gain a more in-depth understanding of atmospheric science.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: Today, my guest is Dr. Lorenza Cooper, who is a speaker and executive leader and results-oriented professor with years of experience in atmospheric science. Today, we’re going to speak about the atmosphere, about climate and its implications on the world around us. So Dr. Cooper, welcome to the podcast and thank you for joining me.

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: Thank you for having me. I am truly honored to be here with you this afternoon.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: Thank you, the honor is all mine, all mine. So let’s get started. There are so many critical conversations happening today that address issues of climate change and atmospheric science. So can you start this conversation by telling us a little bit about yourself and why this topic is so dear to your heart?

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: Yes. So at my core is a driving passion for meteorology and weather. And I find that over the years, and my talking with other meteorologists, is that we can always think back in time to this pinnacle moment where there was some weather event, that’s just sort of triggered this inspiration into the science.

And for me, that triggering event was back when I was very young and I was in the path of Hurricane Hugo. And from there, my passion only grew in terms of just running to the window, whenever there’s a gust of wind or following the weather channel or any storm.

Start a degree in the School of STEM at American Public University.

And from that point forward, I knew I wanted to do something with weather, but I had no idea that weather was something that you could actually study. Back in that time, many of your local broadcast meteorologists, they were simply television anchors and not necessarily meteorologists at heart.

So my goal was to sort of try to get into a field that was somewhat similar, so that I could keep that passion into the study of science, of meteorology and the science of climate change. And so over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to go storm chasing and even have fellowships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with NASA.

And so finally now I’m here with APUS and it’s really given me the opportunity to work with students, even students that are younger than college age students here at the university. I’m able to work with them and inspire those who like me did not know that you can even go into such a field.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: I like what you said, it started with curiosity and you were able to take your curiosity and make it a passion and even a career. So I think our listeners can really relate to that. So when we’re talking about a career in meteorology, how has it impacted you both personally and professionally?

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: Okay. So as far as professionally, it has allowed me to be involved within the research and looking into advancing the science. One thing about meteorology is that it’s an ever-changing field, it’s a field in which we do not know everything.

And we’re really just starting to turn the cusp of our abilities to know what the atmosphere is doing. And so it’s really allowed me to take the vantage point with, “Well, how can I advance the science? What can I do? What role can I play?” Sort of make that advancement.

And then, personally it just fulfills all of my passions with storms and weather and sharing that passion with my kids. They have come to the realization that whenever there’s a storm, they know daddy’s going from one window to another window or I’m videotaping something. If there’s a hailstorm, which we’ve been, I will say, luckily, been able to experience here, I’m the first one to go outside, following the storm, collecting hailstone, saving them in the freezer. So it’s given me that experience to share my passion personally with my kids.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: I think that’s great. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are also in meteorology, so I can totally relate to what you’re saying about going from window to window, whenever there’s some type of atmospheric phenomenon happening outside.

So let’s talk about the world that we live in right now. How do you separate prevailing thought from science and data when it comes to atmospheric science? Because right now there are so many different vantage points and different opinions when it comes to atmospheric science and climate change.

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: So that is one of the many, many challenges when it comes to our field. So earlier I mentioned, it’s a field where we’re continually learning. And I think right now in this day and age, we’re sort of bred to want instantaneous knowledge. We want to know how to react. We want to know the answer of how everything works. And, unfortunately, we’re just not there yet with meteorology, or fortunately I wouldn’t have a job. But we’re not there at that point.

So I find that in conversations with people, as well as dialogue in class, the best approach is to first just sort of remove the data in science, which can be really hard because meteorology is all about data. And we look at the historical aspect of that data and how it changes. But at first you may have to remove that from the conversation.

And, instead, what you do is sort of try to appeal to the values or the concerns of whomever the audience is if it’s a student in your class, or if it’s someone that you’re speaking to. Just get a feel of their perspective. “Well, how did that storm impact you? Did you lose power here? Did you have damage from this?” Or “Was someone adversely affected your parents or a family member or a relative or a neighbor?”

Just as a way to begin that conversation. Going into it, in terms of an open dialogue, instead of more of a debate I find is most helpful. And generally you never know where that may take you or the individual that you’re talking with.

Inevitably, they could want to begin to incorporate that data and begin to incorporate that science. But I find that at first, bring it down to a level where we all relate. Because we all experience whether in some form or fashion daily. We interact with it daily.

So getting it down to that level so that people can start to look at well, “How is this impacting me?” Versus showing this data of something that’s happening hundreds of thousands of miles away, may not be the best approach at first. But then from there, the discussion definitely may be able to grow. So that’s one thing I aim to do, especially in my courses.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: Yeah. And I’m glad you mentioned that, that APUS is starting to expand its meteorology program at not only the undergraduate level, but even the graduate level. So let’s talk about this from the student perspective, we have over 82,000 students at American Public University. So for those students who maybe are not majoring in the sciences, like for example, the School of Business, how can you help them understand how weather relates to their particular discipline?

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: So one of the first things that you can do, is sort of just inform people that meteorology and weather is more than just your local broadcast meteorologists, right? So we all have that attachment and our love for the person that we go through to tell us, “Oh, what are we supposed to wear today?” Or when I need to take shelter from this, or when do I need to go to the store to purchase this. But meteorology is much more than that. It’s much more interdisciplinary is much grander than just watching it on television. So that’s the first thing.

And I’m glad you brought up business because there is a significant relationship between meteorology and business. Most obviously in terms of like agriculture, that plays a huge role. So weather events such as hail storms or ice storms or droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, all of these have huge implications on when you can plant, how you can sustain your crops, how you can harvest your crop, when do you harvest your crop, or how much harvest you have.

In other regards, you have transportation and airlines. I think we generally think of those, especially airlines are directly impacted when you have severe storms or even these very large mid-latitude cyclones that we often get through the latter half of fall into winter and spring, where we have these huge snow storms or blizzards and things that may impact individuals. And then also coming off the cusp of this hurricane season, all of these events impacts business in some form or fashion.

And one thing that students especially business students may not realize is that there are many, many companies that are very much invested in private weather forecasting so that they can develop models to determine, “Well, how is this predicted weather going to impact me specifically?”

So instead of looking at how the weather may impact a whole region, or what will they do to commuters or local schools, but how would it impact my particular business? If it’s a construction business, or if it’s a transportation business or a real-estate business, how would it impact me? So we have lots of companies all around the nation and internationally that hire meteorologists to look at that very perspective and how it impacts business.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: Wow, that’s great. I’m glad that you showed how many connections there are with atmospheric science. Weather relates to business, weather relates to our economy, weather it relates to disaster preparedness, weather relates to health. We’re seeing that in the news almost on a daily basis. And then, like you said, weather affects transportation, not just in the air, but on land as well. So thank you for breaking that down.

So also in the news, there have been discussions about creating a Space Force or another branch of government specifically for this topic. So how do you think weather will impact this emerging field of the Space Force or even space weather?

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: So first of all, weather and the atmosphere is what’s separating us at the surface from space. So one of the goals of the Space Force is to have a presence within space and to get there, you’re going to have to travel through that atmosphere.

And it could be as simple as being able to forecast the weather conditions so that you can launch whatever rockets you are planning to launch. My wife, for example, she loves the idea of space, she wants to take a trip to Mars one day. My daughter, she wants to be an astronaut. So she’s just seven. So that’s just our current plan for now, but we try to nurture that.

And, in doing that, we go see different launches when we can, here in Virginia, the Wallops Island. And one of the trickiest things is that weather forecast for that short period of time. Are we going to take the trip, the lengthy trip, to get to a venue so that we can watch this spectacular event, knowing that there is this very, very small window in which you can launch your rocket and the weather can have an extreme impact on that? The presence of clouds or the presence of ice particles, the wind directions can change suddenly over the matter of minutes. And that could totally scrap your entire plan to launch your rocket.

So that’s one instance in which the Space Force will have to rely heavily on meteorology. One way in which we’re already seeing this relationship between the two is that the Space Force inherited a civilian satellite. So the GOES-13 satellite that was previously operated by NOAA. The Space Force, they inherited that satellite so that they could look at gaps over the Indian Ccean and having a good idea of weather patterns there. And so we’re starting to see how this relationship between the two are only going to thrive from this point forward.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: You raised a really good point because satellite meteorology is an emerging field. And my understanding is that every time we launch a satellite, the technology is so much more advanced that not only does it help with weather prediction, but it can help with so many other aspects of our atmosphere and just understanding the various layers. So thank you for highlighting that.

So you’re currently the course creator for several atmospheric sciences courses at American Public University. So could you tell us a little more about these courses?

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: Yes. So we do have several. We have two introductory courses. One includes a lab component, one that does not. But one thing I find that students really enjoy when it comes to the lab component is that this particular course allows you to work interactively with real meteorological data. So that’s one of the great aspects.

But both of these courses, they cast a wide net looking at things like hurricanes and tornadoes and floods and droughts, just so that students can get an idea of how far reaching the weather is. In doing that, they also get an idea of, “Well, how is weather impacting me?” So that’s one thing we were able to do in discussions. We take time to say, “Well, what’s happening where I am? Or what’s happening somewhere else and how was this all interrelated?” So it works very well at a university, especially like ours at APUS, where we have people stationed in a position all over.

And so you really get an idea of how will this one weather event may have some impact here, and maybe this is influencing something somewhere else. So you’re able to draw those connections.

We also have a 200-level course, our Weather and Climate course. And with that course, we look at things such as cloud physics and the atmosphere thermodynamics. It’s a course where students are generally in environmental science or like natural science or earth science, but it is not exclusively for those students. But what that course does, it allows you to now begin to draw relationships between meteorology and your particular major.

And so one thing that we do have in that course is a course project that we have at the end of the eight weeks, that allows you to draw that relationship. And I find that many students are able to use that as a foundational for maybe like an independent study or for like their senior projects within their major.

Finally, we do have an upper-level course, which is our 300-level course in Ocean and Atmosphere Dynamics. And in that particular course, we look at global circulation. And so the movement and how low-pressure systems and storms and cyclones, how they move gradually around the world. So those are our courses.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: I like how you mentioned that a lot of these courses have multi-functions. So can you talk a little bit more about the space weather aspect of some of the science courses at American Public University?

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: So, we do have one upper level space weather course. And what that course allows you to do is you look at things such as the solar storms and solar flares that can potentially impact the space force or impact even us here on the surface of the earth. As it can inhibit our ability to communicate through cellular service, land line, also GPS. All of these services are very, very vulnerable. And even to some extent, our entire power grid is vulnerable if there was a significant solar storm event.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: Okay. Yeah, I, I can definitely relate to that. Like wind energy and solar energy, all of that could greatly be affected by what’s happening, not only in our atmosphere, but in space as well. So who should enroll in these courses? Are they for anyone or just for someone pursuing a degree in the sciences?

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: So our introductory course, Introduction to Meteorology, is open to all students. It will actually fulfill one of your general education and science requirements. So if you find that you are in need to fulfill that requirement, this may be a perfect course for you to take. And once again, we have the option where you can take the lab component, or you can choose to not take the lab component for either of those, but it’s really open to all students.

Weather and Climate, which is our 200 level course and an Atmospheric Dynamics course, which is our 300 level course are also open to any students. We tend to see that we have a lot of students focus in things like Earth Science or Emergency Management. But if you have an interest at all in meteorology, or if you’re open to learning more about meteorology, I would really recommend that you enroll in our introductory course and progress as far as you desire.

Because one thing I want to mention about our courses is that, none of them are stagnant or in a bubble. And as we see that we have students from different disciplines that may be interested, like we were talking about business earlier or whichever major, we are definitely willing to incorporate things that will be important for your field into our class. And that’s one thing that is very important for one, but that’s one of the things that’s very easy for us to do in meteorology. So it’s really open to all students.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: Okay. That’s good to know. And you mentioned this earlier, but you said not only can you take courses in meteorology, but if you take a certain number of courses that could build toward a certificate. So how can a certificate benefit someone in a related scientific field?

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: So, one thing that we are hoping to create in the future is this undergraduate certificate in meteorology. And what that will allow you to do, is to have a greater knowledge base to incorporate meteorology into whatever field that you are currently enrolled.

So it is not something that where you have to just completely abandon whatever that your major area of study is. We will work to incorporate this. One thing I would say is that the idea for this certificate actually came from a student. So a student that was actually pursuing to become a certified consultant meteorologist. So these are actually meteorologists that do work for businesses and do work for companies and do forecasting for these specific countries and their business interests.

And that student was an outside student from Earth Science. And we were actually able for this particular student to incorporate an independent study. But in essence, what our certificate program will do is allow students to tack this on to whatever areas they’re looking at, or whatever areas they’re studying. So as mentioned, Earth Science, Emergency Management, we have Fire Science. That’s another area that we have, lots of students engaged. Businesses, we’ve had Health. It’s just a wide variety of students that could benefit I believe from meteorology certificate.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: I think you said it best that a wide variety of students could benefit from this. And you’ve just mentioned a few of the ways: energy, economics. We even talked about climate, oceanography, modeling, the possibilities are really endless.

So I really want to encourage our listeners to consider some of the various meteorology courses that we have at American Public University. So Dr. Cooper, as we begin to wrap up, what are some resources that you have used or provided in the past to help individuals become more aware of the atmospheric sciences?

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: So different sources that I use, and these are actually ones that I actually inspire my students to use as well, are all generally under the umbrella of the National Weather Service. There’s lots of different subsidiary websites like the Storm Prediction Center, or there’s the Climate Data Center. There’s the National Centers for Environmental Protection, the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

So really, it’s whatever your interest is. And that’s one thing meteorology is so wide. And it’s whatever part of the science that you’re interested, there’s bound to be some information out there for you. And if you just aren’t sure where you are, you should pursue links that I’m sure you’re already aware of. For me, for example, different social media. So now that everyone has a phone or has a camera, they’re constantly taking pictures and videoing different weather events among other things.

And so you have the opportunity to virtually experience some of the same meteorological phenomenon that you may not know that you have an interest in. And from there things could grow. I found myself just last week, for example, when we have student presentations and the student did a great presentation on the very large derecho that was in Iowa this past spring. And in the midst of grading, I find 30 minutes later, I’m just surfing YouTube, looking at as many videos of derechos and storm damage and wind events. So I recommend those platforms as well, because you never know what information or what videos that you may experience, and that may pique some type of interest.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: That’s a great point. And I think we’re going to leave it there. So thank you for sharing your expertise and your perspective on atmospheric science. And thank you today for joining me for this podcast.

Dr. Lorenza Cooper: Thank you. I appreciate being here and just being on this platform to talk about the science and the discipline that I truly love.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt: Yes. It’s an awesome topic. It’s an awesome topic and yes, I’m biased. All right. So thank you to our listeners as well for joining us. As a reminder, you can learn more about these topics and more by signing up for American Public University’s newsletter. So until our next podcast be well and be safe.

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