Contributed by Ellen Klicka, American Meteorological Society Policy Program
Every community around the U.S. is at risk of extreme weather. In 2011, for instance, this country experienced 14 separate weather disasters, each with more than $1 billion in economic losses and over 1,000 deaths. The National Weather Service does not expect things to slow down.
Unfortunately, the public in many cases lacks sufficient know-how to take measures against potential loss of life and property that natural hazards may cause. Over the past two years, PLAN!T NOW, a non-profit organization that assists communities at risk of being negatively impacted by disasters, has developed a very successful partnership with the National Weather Service (part of the National Oceanic and Atmospherics Administration) and the American Meteorological Society (AMS) to educate U.S. students about weather-related disasters.
PLAN!T NOW asked AMS, a professional society dedicated to advancing the atmospheric sciences and their applications, to partner in creating the Young Meteorologist Program (YMP), an online learning game for young people. Staff from the AMS Policy Program connected PLAN!T NOW to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other leaders in the disaster preparedness and response arena. NOAA has contributed considerable knowledge and support for the Young Meteorologist Program and other PLAN!T NOW initiatives.
The uniquely diverse team of experts that made YMP possible includes educators, scientists, entertainers and software developers, all working towards the common goal of creating disaster resilient communities across America.
The Young Meteorologist Program brings Owlie Skywarn – a trademarked character of NOAA, revised and updated by PLAN!T NOW – into the 21st century as he and a host of other animated characters help each child become a junior data collector for the Weather Center and a knowledgeable member of his or her family. Game modules cover hurricanes, lightning, floods, tornadoes, and winter storms. Each game is created in full, interactive animation. When a student completes the online program he or she earns a Young Meteorologist Certificate and is invited to put the new knowledge to work through hands-on activities and community service projects highlighted on the program’s website.
The game designers began with educational material from a NOAA booklet featuring Owlie, and science experts ensured the relevance and accuracy of content for this engaging resource. The AMS Policy Program and NOAA advised PLAN!T NOW on such topics as classification of storms and the development of tornadoes, flooding and storm surges during extreme weather events.
The Young Meteorologist Program stands out from other preparedness programs because it is aimed at children as the gateway into families to take action to be resilient in the face of extreme weather. Children can be passionate about issues that are presented effectively, and in turn they can be effective at mobilizing the whole family. When kids feel empowered with knowledge and recognition of their efforts (in the form of the program completion certificate), they are more likely to encourage their parents, friends and community members to make personal preparedness a priority. Prepared communities start with prepared households.
The innovative online platform allows the game to reach more students than the original Owlie printed brochure because it is free and widely available to anyone with an Internet-connected computer. The interactive nature of the game draws players in and offers more educational content than the booklet.
Future versions of YMP may include new modules on fires and tsunamis, in addition to the five modules in the current game.
YMP inspires students with lessons in meteorological sciences and could inspire students to pursue careers in meteorology. Other scientific disciplines, such as oceanography and climatology could serve as the basis for programs similar to YMP down the road.
The National Education Association also assisted to ensure the educational quality of the program. Many educators agree that sparking young people’s interest in STEM education (science, technology, math and engineering) is essential for a vibrant U.S. economy in the long term. Weather events, accompanied by glittery snowfalls, howling winds or swirling funnel clouds, often have profound effects on childhood experiences. Weather can be a powerful hook to draw students in to the world of science and prompt them to ask their parents whether their family has a disaster kit or emergency plan.
YMP will soon premiere in classrooms, museums, libraries, major city expos and events all over the country, reaching tens of thousands of children and adults. Resources for educators, parents and meteorologists to give further guidance to the Young Meteorologists are also available.
American Meteorological Society Policy Program