ORIENT – In a place like Iowa, there are four distinct seasons, and it’s easy to become fascinated with the weather.
After a unit in their class led them to read the Ivy Ruckman fictional novel “Night of the Twisters,” that is based on a true story of a tornado outbreak in Nebraska, Katie Geidel’s fourth-grade students at Orient-Macksburg decided to bring WHO-TV Channel 13 meteorologist Amber Alexander to their class.
Alexander came to the school Wednesday and spoke about her job, severe weather safety and answered questions about anything the school’s second- through sixth-graders wanted to know about the weather.
“I thought it was cool,” Addy Shinn said when asked about the presentation.
Neither Emma Blazek nor Emma Boswell realized some of the details Alexander shared about tornadoes.
“I’ve seen Amber on TV before and it was neat to meet her,” Boswell said.
“I didn’t know that there are so many [ratings of tornadoes],” Blazek added, referring to the Enhanced Fujita Scale tornadoes are rated by.
Alexander’s trek to Adair County is the latest of a commitment she’s made for herself to get out into more schools this year.
“I actually made a goal this year to do more school talks,” she explained. “I believe school talks make me better at my job.”
Alexander explained to the students that she studied meteorology at the University of Nebraska and prefers warmer weather, so she never thought she’d be forecasting in the Midwest for a living.
“It was just from studying the weather in school, like you all are now, that made me think that studying weather would be really, really neat,” the Council Bluffs native told the students. “I studied it in high school a little bit and I was able to do a course outside of school that allowed me to go a little more in-depth [before college].”
Alexander plays a part on a team at Channel 13 that forecasts daily and broadcasts that forecast to viewers across the entire state. If there is a threat of severe weather, that may mean she’s working late hours. Her team’s overall goal is to keep people safe.
Students enjoyed seeing pictures of Channel 13’s weather studio and Alexander explained to them how the green screen, monitors and radar work.
“Our green screen is bigger than most stations because we actually have the ability to be in our graphics. It’s what we call a virtual set,” she said. “That’s why we have the green screen on the ground and on all of the walls.”
While Alexander explained the various forecast models meteorologists like herself use to develop their projections, she said the forecast is actually made up of a mixture of simple and complex observations. Simple observations can be found by just walking outside. More complex observations can be drawn from numbers on a map on screens in the studio.
Students learned about severe weather safety through catchy phrases like “When thunder roars, go indoors” and “Turn around, don’t drown.”
Alexander told a story of a woman and her son in New Orleans who sought shelter from a tornado in the bathtub and survived. Students then shared where they’d go in their home if a tornado warning was issued. Alexander taught that the safest place to go is always the lowest, most interior room.
“It was a 75-year old woman and her son who were in that bathtub. It flew out of the house, and that was actually an EF-3 tornado,” she said.
“You want to go in your basement, but if you don’t have a basement you want to go to an interior room and get under some sturdy furniture and stay away from windows,” Alexander added. “If you’re outside, you want to go to a ditch or a low lying area. If you’re driving and absolutely can’t get away from a tornado, that’s when you’d want to get in a ditch.”
The students had inquisitive questions, one of them asking why it snows in April or May sometimes. Others asked why Alexander enjoys her job so much.
“My job is very, very rewarding. I’m able to come and teach you about the weather, but I’m also able to tell the forecast in a way that keeps people safe,” she said. “Being able to keep people safe and teach people about the weather are probably two of the coolest things, I think, and I’ve had people come up to me who have said they’ve learned from something I said. I also like being able to forecast the weather and know what’s going to happen on a day-to-day basis. Every day is different.”