Tempest Innovator: Ross Forsyth of the National Weather Museum & Science Center
As a child, Ross Forsyth remembers his father (the late Doug Forsyth) collecting and storing rare and unusual weather instruments and artifacts in hopes of one day founding a weather museum. Today, Ross serves as Co-Executive Director of that Museum. Read on to learn more about how it got started, what kinds of exhibits the museum offers, and how to get the kids in your life interested in the weather.
Q: Can you talk about the origins of the Museum and where you see things going in the next 5 to 10 years?
A: The Museum has been a 501c3 since around 2007. We developed a phased approach to build it out. Phase one was a traveling museum, which is a 40-foot trailer that visits schools and STEM events all over the country. As we grew we acquired what we consider to be our centerpiece, a T28 storm-penetrating aircraft that was active up until 2013, flying research missions. We got that, and we needed a place to put it. So we found a building that had a large garage door that we could open up and get everything in there. We've slowly rebuilt that to showcase the progression of weather research, where technology has come, where it's going, and build a story around that. So that's where we are currently - phase two. Phase three involves a 5-10 year plan to get a fully architected, custom-built facility opened to the public.
Q: one of the exhibits at the museum is a farming robot. can you explain that a bit?
Oklahoma has 77 counties, and every county has a weather station. (You can go on mesonet.org to see your specific county.) We linked that data with a farming robot called FarmBot, which farms a raised bed of plants by using robotics camera vision and taking in data from the mesonet weather stations. That data helps determine whether the raised bed should get water. We collect water in a rain barrel, so if it's going to rain, the FarmBot determines, through the programming, if it should water, or even if a certain plant might need water. So we're trying to use that to teach not only farming and how dependent our food supply is on the weather, but also robotics and programming. The concept of water/don't water is very fundamental in computer programming, so it's a really fun, educational exhibit for a number of reasons.
National Weather Museum & Science Center Co-Executive Director Ross Forsyth discusses his favorite exhibits.
Q: how DO you get the exhibits and objects in the Museum? ARE MOST of them donations?
A lot of them are donated. For example, we have a donor with one of the biggest thermometer collections in the world, and he's gifting them to us over time. Someone else contacted me today about a 1960s weather balloon that their grandparents tracked down. I don't know the whole story yet, but it's why I love this job because people want to share their stories, and everyone seems to have a weather story of some kind. We joke because people always say, "What's going on with this weather??" You know, the classic conversation starter. But when people visit us, they really have a weather story to tell, and it's neat to hear people's experiences.
Q: How can people encourage kids in their lives to become a little bit more interested in STEM, particularly meteorology?
I think it starts with getting weather observation equipment, like the Tempest. That insight into what's going on outside can spark a lot of talk around the dinner table. Looking at what the temperature might be tomorrow, historical graphs, and interesting correlations, even just getting basic readings can spark that interest. And that's what we see a lot of at the Museum; teaching about the scientific method starts with having a little bit of data. So I really encourage everyone to either get a weather station or a simple thermometer or rain gauge. In our gift shop, we sell sling psychrometers, which are fun because you get to spin them around, but then looking at the chart and translating the data makes it tangible.
Q: starting a weather museum is a pretty unusual endeavor. growing up, was that something you were interested in or did you think of it as your dad's hobby?
A: My dad was very active in the weather communities here in Norman, Oklahoma, and in Washington DC. So occasionally people would ask if I was going to go into weather, but I really didn't have much desire to be in meteorology back then. So we never really linked up until I got out of school and started looking at software development, especially startups. He liked the weather part of it and showcasing that, and I am passionate about startups and getting things off the ground. A lot of people have come together to make his vision a reality. It was something that I don't think you ever see as a possibility when you're young. But looking back, it's clear that our interests brought us together and helped make this all real.
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