Meteorology alumnus helps provide critical air quality forecasts in internship

Jesse Westbrook
October 13, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Shortly after graduating in May 2016, Matt Brown applied skills he learned from his Penn State undergraduate education to help address a critical issue: forecasting air quality. During summer 2016, he completed an internship in the Penn State Air Quality Forecast Office (PSAQFO), where he collaborated in providing important forecasts for community planners, local officials and the public.

As his graduation approached, Brown discovered an opportunity in the PSAQFO, which is led by Amy Huff, research associate, and William Ryan, adjunct research assistant. The office provides daily forecasts of ozone during the summer months and fine particulate matter year-round. Specifically, the team provides forecasts for communities in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and state of Delaware.

Huff hires interns every summer to help with air quality forecasts during the busy summer season.

Huff and Ryan said the internship is a great opportunity for students — not only for the services provided to the larger community, but also because it offers great training for students aspiring to be forecasters.

Brown saw the internship as a way to build upon the forecasting foundation that he had acquired as an undergraduate, particularly through his participation in a national forecasting competition.

“Having focused on other areas of meteorology, such as severe storms, rather than air quality, I wasn’t sure if I would be a good fit for the internship,” said Brown, who graduated with a bachelor of science in meteorology through the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “But once I realized that there was a huge forecasting element to the internship, I thought it might be a great opportunity to enhance my skill set.”

Brown worked closely with Huff on his daily tasks as he learned the specifics of air quality forecasting, which has some important differences from weather forecasting. A typical day for Brown required him to consult several models and weather products to prepare separate, unique forecasts.

“In the morning I prepared a technical forecasting discussion for forecasters and researchers in the mid-Atlantic region,” said Brown, “and in the afternoon I prepared shorter discussions for the Philadelphia metropolitan area and Delaware that were designed for the public. I also contributed to a consensus forecast of ozone and fine particulate matter with Dr. Huff. We worked together to determine if air quality alerts were necessary.”

To create the forecasts, he used a variety of weather and air quality models, as well as statistical models specifically developed for the Philadelphia and Delaware forecast areas. Although air quality forecasts are especially vital for groups of people who are sensitive to poor air quality, such as those with allergies or asthma, they are also important for the entire public when the levels climb high enough to become harmful.

“People generally react strongly to severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado warnings,” Brown explained. “But dangerous air quality is something not everyone thinks about. It was our job to try to reach a larger audience so we could warn people.”

One way that Brown succeeded in reaching a broad audience was by understanding the need to tailor forecasts and discussions to different groups of people.

“One of the biggest takeaways from the internship was developing the ability to communicate the same information in different ways depending on your audience,” said Brown, who hopes to eventually become a professor.

“As a professor you must be able to connect with your fellow peers and researchers on a technical level as well as be able to repackage your message to connect with students.”

Brown’s next step is attending Texas A&M University in fall 2016 to pursue his master’s degree in atmospheric science. He plans to focus on the numerical modeling of supercell thunderstorms.

For more information about the Penn State Air Quality Forecast Office internship program, contact Huff at akh157@psu.edu.

  • Matt Brown in front of Weather Wall

    Matthew Brown stands in front of the weather wall in the Joel N. Myers Weather Center on the sixth floor of Walker Building. 

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 14, 2016