On Track with SOAP

Students with weather balloon.Thirty undergraduate students help run the Aggie Doppler Radar (ADRAD) each spring semester as part of the Student Operational ADRAD Project, better known as SOAP. The purpose of SOAP is to understand how storms in Southeast Texas interact with the larger-scale circulation by collecting a long-term climatology of radar data across the region. SOAP students are actively involved in making weather forecasts and operating the radar.

Department of Atmospheric Sciences Assistant Professor Dr. Courtney Schumacher, who oversees the NSF-sponsored program, specifically designed SOAP to involve students at all levels throughout the undergraduate curriculum. Freshmen to seniors participate in the program each year and work towards a common goal by collecting data for the field project.

“Our undergraduates provide the ideal man-power to collect a long time series of radar data while getting hands-on experience with a radar system and other weather-related tasks,” Schumacher said. “The students involved have collected a high-quality data set which has already been put to use in multiple research projects.”

Students making observations from the top of the O&M Building.In addition to running the radar during times of precipitation, students also work in teams to prepare daily forecasts, make cloud observations, archive current weather conditions and work on case studies involving radar and satellite data. Past special projects have involved real-time monitoring of Hurricane Ike, launching weather balloons and measuring local rainfall using a high-density student-run rain gauge network.

“My favorite part of SOAP was being able to get experience working with so many different types of instruments,” said recent meteorology graduate and three-time SOAP veteran Amanda Fanning. “It felt great knowing how certain instruments worked and I impressed my boss when I knew how to launch a weather balloon on my first day at work.”

“I really liked how I could put my knowledge and understanding of the weather to practical use,” said senior meteorology student Dion Delao. “SOAP gave me the opportunity to apply what I learned in my classes. Knowing that any of the work we were doing, from writing a forecast discussion to running ADRAD, was benefiting someone somehow, was a rewarding feeling.”

SOAP also gives upper-level students the opportunity to work on advanced research projects during the fall semester. Graduate students Larry Hopper and Justin Stachnik assist Schumacher in running the course and tailor specific projects to the students’ interests, culminating with student presentations at national and local research conferences.

Student explaining forecast.“It’s a fun experience that lets us explore scientific questions we otherwise might not have time to investigate,” said Hopper.

“We’re incredibly proud of all our students and consistently have some of the best student work in the nation,” added Stachnik.

“Being a part of SOAP allowed me the opportunity to interact with upperclassmen and professors which greatly helped my understanding of meteorology”, said Will Hatheway, sophomore meteorology major. “SOAP was by far my favorite class during my freshman year and might possibly be my favorite in my whole college career. I cannot wait to do SOAP again next year!”

For more information on SOAP, check out the group’s webpage: SOAP.

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