Fun In The Forecast

FALCONER – Approximately 600 students from Falconer’s Temple and Fenner elementary schools experienced a variety of weather conditions in Fenner’s auditorium.

On Friday, Fenner was visited by WGRZ Channel 2 meteorologist Andy Parker and his homemade Weather Machine to teach students about weather and the science behind it.

As students filed into the auditorium, the Weather Machine sat silently and ominously on the stage. After his introduction by Larry Spangenburg, principal at Fenner, Parker emerged to thunderous applause and greeted the students by walking through the crowd and giving high-fives.

The assembly began with a brief lesson on the fundamentals of meterology and some of the instruments that are used to predict the weather. Parker informed the students that only 1 percent of weather happens in the area between eye and toe level while the other 99 percent takes place in the space above eye level. He then described the functionality of instruments such as radar and anemometers, which measure wind speed.

Over the course of the assembly, Parker was assisted by several students in the crowd for audience participation. The demonstrations began with the inflation of a weather balloon, which was inflated on stage and then bounced around the auditorium by the students.

Then the Weather Machine made its debut, as a member of the audience was able to step inside the device and experience the difference in ultraviolet ray sensation between a partly cloudy day and a clear, sunny day. The machine also produced simulated breezes, gusts of wind, fog, tornados and snow.

Other demonstrations included: the use of a solar panel to power a model helicopter; creating clouds which could be held in the students’ hands; and creating rainbows by shining light on a CD-ROM. Volunteers also got to perform a demonstration in lightning by using a Van de Graaff generator to pass an electric current through each other’s fingertips. Hair literally stood on end as volunteers placed a hand on the generator, much to the amusement of the audience.

According to Parker, the Weather Machine was built in his garage over the course of a year.

“I didn’t just go out and buy it at Wal-Mart,” he said. “It started when I would visit classrooms of 20 to 25 kids and do experiments with them. Teachers wanted to start combining classrooms together because the kids wanted to see the experiments and the classrooms got full, so I started making the experiments bigger. Eventually, I said, ‘This is popular so I’m going to supersize it.’ So in my garage, I just tooled around and literally took all of the experiments that really hit home with the kids and that they would remember and blew them up.”

He continued: “It all had to be pieced together. There was a prototype and a lot of trial and error, but everything we do is an experiment. Sometimes it goes as planned and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s part of the learning experience. It’s part of science and I think it teaches the kids a lot about experimentation and scientific theory.”

The Weather Machine is trademarked and copyrighted by Parker and is a one-of-a-kind device. Parker also stated that his Van de Graaff generator is the third largest in the world, next to those in the Museum of Science in Rochester and Toronto.

Parker’s visit was made possible through Fenner’s participation in a regional food race last month, in which Fenner competed with 10 other schools throughout Western New York. Fenner won the competition by collection 9,333 pounds of food, equivalent to 7,777 meals, which was distributed to St. Susan’s Soup Kitchen and other food pantries throughout Chautauqua County.

“(Because of) the build up since the announcement that Mr. Parker made when he came here, the kids have been so excited,” said Spangenburg. “Every day we’ve been talking about it, and to actually see the kids’ faces today during the show is unbelievable. Not only will collecting the goods (for the food race competition) be a life-long lesson, but their faces showed that they will remember this show for the rest of their lives. It’s not every day that Andy Parker from Channel 2 and his Weather Machine come down to Chautauqua County, so we’re honored and thrilled that he was here today.”