Nelson brings weather to life
SUMMIT COVE – The sun shone brightly on Summit Cove Elementary Thursday morning. There were only a few clouds polka-dotting the sky, and Wednesday night’s snow was slowly melting across the sidewalks and playgrounds.
“This is not my favorite kind of day,” meteorologist Mike Nelson admitted to the crowd of second-, fourth- and fifth-graders in the gymnasium. “My favorite kind of day is when the sky is dark and stormy and scary. I just like watching big storms.”
Nelson, a meteorologist for Channel 9 News, has always been enthralled by weather, and he shares his passion with about 150 Colorado schools every year.
“When I was a kid, I was very interested in the weather. My hope is that, for kids who are interested in science, I can be an inspiration to them,” Nelson said.
Nelson said he recently received an e-mail from a young meteorologist whose seventh-grade class Nelson had visited in 1986. On that day, the then-student vowed to make weather his life’s work.
What is the jet stream anyway?
Nelson illuminated students on many tricks of the trade and meteorological mysteries such as tornadoes and the jet stream.
One of the most important tools for weather forecasters, said Nelson, is a radiosonde – a small white box containing a barometer, thermometer and hydrometer.
A giant weather balloon lifts the radiosonde high into the atmosphere. The device sends information, including its location, to the ground via radio signals.
Nelson brought along one of the balloons to show the students.
“Here are the latest weather balloon fashions for the holidays,” he said, demonstrating the balloon’s versatility, not only as a scientific tool, but also as a cape, a skirt and a scarf.
At an altitude of 20 miles, Nelson said, the balloon bursts, and the radiosonde parachutes to the ground.
“Someday, sometime, somewhere, one of these will fall into your neighborhood,” Nelson said. “Some people will think it was sent by aliens. But you’ll be able to say, “Do not fear! It’s just a radiosonde!'”
Meteorologists send these boxes into the air twice a day from 100 locations around the country.
Their movement through the atmosphere tells scientists where the jet stream is at any particular time.
“The jet stream is a river of fast-moving air, way up high above us,” Nelson said. “Here’s why it’s important. When the jet stream is blowing over Colorado, we get stormy weather down here.”
When the jet stream runs into a thunderstorm, Nelson said, it spins the storm, creating a tornado.
In Summit County, the mountains interfere with the storm’s spinning, which is why most of the state’s tornados touch down in the plains.
Video games at work
“How many of you like to play video games?” Nelson asked. “I get to play video games at work for three hours every day. And I get paid for it.”
The students groaned in envy.
Through a program he calls “windtendo,” he takes weather data from all over the country, and turns it into the flashy graphic presentations on TV weather reports.
With a few keystrokes, Nelson sprays sunshines over Arizona, scoots the jet stream into its proper location for the day and sprinkles snowflakes across Canada.
During the weather forecast, Nelson delivers his predictions in front of a blank, blue screen, while the studio superimposes his maps for TV viewers to see.
Climate change: science vs. politics
“Climate change is as much political science as it is physical science,” Nelson said. “Unfortunately, politics has outweighed the science.”
As a meteorologist, Nelson lamented how easy it is for climate change naysayers to throw cold water on scientific research.
“As the climate changes, we’re going to see more severe weather – heavier rain, more severe droughts. It’s going to be difficult for people to deal with.
“We will not come up with the answers by sticking our head in the sand. We’re not putting enough into alternative energy sources. I feel strongly about that.”
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at email@example.com.
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