EMS continues weather forecasting dominance, earns sixth straight national honor

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Predicting the weather is a challenge, but predicting who will win the national WxChallenge isn’t nearly as hard.

Penn State’s WxChallenge team continues to dominate the 20-week weather forecasting competition, recently earning its sixth straight top finish.

“Winning any national competition six times in a row is extremely hard,” said Jon Nese, senior lecturer in meteorology and associate head of the meteorology and atmospheric science program. “Any time you’re in a competition that’s spread over 20 weeks, there’s a lot of room for error. It’s remarkable. I’m happy to make six layups in a row in basketball, let alone win a 20-week contest.”

Every two weeks, students are given a location and then dedicate eight evenings to forecasting high and low temperatures, maximum wind speed, and total precipitation that will occur within a 24-hour period. Participants battle both as a team and individually in two competitions. A tournament-style bracket is designed for individuals to compete against each other at the end of the year, similar to the NCAA basketball tournament. The team competition takes place throughout the entire academic year, with universities battling against each other. Penn State members, mostly from the METEO 215 class, take part in both of these competitions.

Team members said both camaraderie and hard work helps Penn State remain on top.

“Our meteorology and atmospheric science program is top notch, and I think that helps us a lot. However, our biggest advantage has to be that we feel like a family,” said Madison Littin, a senior majoring in the program. “The way we are able to openly discuss our opinions and forecasts, make jokes about the weather and each other, it all makes it feel like a fun club and not a competition.”

Littin was also excited about what the win means for women considering the career.

“It honestly means the world to me,” Littin said. “Not a lot of women participate, let alone become one of the top five forecasters listed on the trophy. So when we won I felt a great sense of pride. I hope that my name and presence on the team trophy makes other women in meteorology participate.”

Team members said success is breeding success.

“Team communication is striking,” said Andrew Thomas, a graduate student in meteorology who coached the team in the spring. “The entire class participates in discussion of what may occur, without actually describing individual predictions. Juniors and seniors will pass down tools and describe the patterns seen from their own experiences so that newer students can learn.”

For Karl Schneider, a first-year student majoring in meteorology and atmospheric science, the hardest part is the diverse selection of regions called up in the competition. Participants need to know a lot about weather forecasting but also take into account the unique conditions of that region. Being able to apply forecasting knowledge to these regions is what sets apart the good forecasters from the great forecasters, he said.

He would know. Schneider finished first out of more than 3,000 participants, earning the top individual honor.

“Winning the competition sends a message that we are definitely one of the best meteorology and atmospheric science programs out there,” Schneider said. “It shows that Penn State students start their real-world experience early and are well-equipped to jump right into a career. Our success also shows that human forecasters are still relevant in the age of technology. As long as we can continue to beat computer guidance by a huge margin, Penn State meteorologists will always have a job.”

The names of the top five forecasters, Zak Aronson, James Enlow, Littin, Schneider and former coach Michael Goss, who earned his doctorate in meteorology from Penn State in the spring, will be engraved on the trophy that will soon join the others in the Joel N. Myers Weather Center on the University Park campus.

For more information on how to get involved in the WxChallenge, contact Kyle Imhoff at kai5024@psu.edu.

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Last Updated July 25, 2017