Columbus, MS,
13:40 PM

Young Tornado Teachers Balloon Knowledge

A Mississippi school district assists with severe storm readiness

Do you know...

  • the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning?
  • where to find a safe location during tornado?
  • what items should be in your Preparedness kit?

Some students in Columbus, MS are making sure people in their community know these answers and more.

Statistics of the amount of tornadoes Columbus, Mississippi has had.Columbus is a “Dixie Alley” community considered “very high risk for tornadoes.” As part of a unique program between the Columbus Municipal School District and Mississippi State University (MSU), the students are able to engage in scientific inquiry and serve their community.

The project has two objectives: meteorology and public speaking. Students train to educate others about severe storm safety. They also learn how to launch weather balloons. With MSU staff, they remotely collect atmospheric data during storms. Science teachers select students based on their work ethic and enthusiasm for the sciences.

“Mississippi is at high risk for tornadoes. The season is very long, and we are often affected by night tornadoes. Many in our community live in mobile homes,” says Deborah Pounders, project teacher. “My students learn about the safety precautions to follow during severe weather. They then learn communication skills to help share that knowledge with others.”

Students from Columbus Municipal School District learning about weather safety.After training, teams of students release weather balloons on predicted severe weather days. Students monitor the balloons from a laptop that communicates with the Windsond device. Wind speed, atmospheric pressure, altitude and temperature are among the data collected. MSU then uses the data and makes it available to the National Weather Service. The data assists more accurate predictions and increases awareness and preparedness.

Besides data collection, students present severe weather safety information to local elementary students as part of the program. The students speak to groups of 4th graders and answer student questions. They stress the importance of access to current weather updates, either by TV, radio or cell phone.

"The weather grant program is good. It helps us and it helps the kids we teach about weather safety rules. Then they can pass it on to their families," says student Earlondria Jones.

Pounders is proud of her students. “These students are the only ones in the entire United States to collect data in this manner,” she said. “When presenting to elementary school students, they represent themselves like pros.”

Severe weather affects thousands of people each year. Do you know how to prepare? Can you spot the warning signs?