Weather-Ready Nation (WRN) Ambassadors are organizations that work with the National Weather Service (NWS) to keep communities safe from weather hazards. In one such partnership, students at a juvenile detention school have taken on that role by sharing weather information in their own voices using the power of music.
Jennifer Hastings is a science teacher who works at an accredited juvenile detention education program in the Portland, Oregon, area that provides educational services to students currently detained by the legal system from surrounding counties. With Hastings’ support, the students created “Weather Slap” raps, in which they discuss weather safety, process their concerns about climate change and environmental hazards, and explore the ways that underserved communities are more vulnerable to environmental hazards.
“I am inspired everyday when I see some of what the public would label the ‘hardest’ kids to work with have the opportunity to participate in a real life project where they are giving back to the science and weather community, serving in projects where they are able to share their voices and begin to see themselves as the scientists they are,” said Hastings. This year, Hastings received an Ambassador of Excellence award from NWS in recognition of her work.
Tragic weather events like the 2021 heat wave in Oregon have left an impression on residents, including students at the school. “We shattered our all-time record [high] by 9 degrees. Several stations in Oregon hit 117 [degrees Fahrenheit], which is also the record for Las Vegas. So, very anomalous,” said John Bumgardner, an NWS meteorologist who worked at the weather forecast office in Portland at the time. “And we had over 100 fatalities from that heat wave.” In one Weather Slap rap, a student writes, “Ambassador weather ready; but we can’t forget the nation. We need help with the heat so I’m getting impatient. Wildfires running wild something breathtaking. The climate change ain’t helpin’ us and it ain’t changing. Hundreds died from the heat. Hey was they worth saving?”
A previous version of that video has been viewed more than 1,700 times since it was published on the NWS Portland’s YouTube channel in May 2022. “We’ve included that in our newsletter, and we’ve … tried to highlight them on social media when we can,” said Bumgardner. “It has been a really great relationship, and they’ve done the work of an ambassador very well.”
Students aren’t only communicating about the weather, they’re also measuring it with their own weather station. “It transmits data directly to us, and we see that data in the weather and hazards viewer… It can be useful to our operations for verifying the forecast,” said Bumgardner. “And they measure rain, which could potentially help us if we’re thinking about issuing something for a flood. It could be critical data.” The school reports precipitation to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow (CoCoRaHS) Network offsite link, a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation. In the future, Hastings hopes to train her students to become NWS SKYWARN Storm Spotters, volunteers who help keep their communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather.
This successful collaboration is made possible by talented students and an exceptional educator. “Jennifer is one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. She’s passionate about her students and she’s passionate about weather and science, but especially weather. And I think that’s contagious,” said Bumgardner. “It has been contagious and sort of inspiring for us to see how involved she is and how much she cares about her students. It has been really good to see them take an interest in something and see that … the Weather Service cares about the information they’re creating.”
“Without [this collaboration with the NWS], these kids would never really understand how their commitment to do well in school as well as participate in the weather science we do here is making a difference,” said Hastings.
NWS is looking — and listening — to these WRN Ambassadors to find out what’s next. “Jennifer and her students have been leading the way. We’ve been watching them do this amazing work, highlighting them when we can, and encouraging them to keep doing what they are doing,” said Bumgardner.