On campus weather service finds success

Sarah Yaacoub

One year ago, WKU’s White Squirrel Weather Service took the world by storm, revolutionizing university students’ access to the daily forecast and emergency weather information on campus. White Squirrel Weather, known as WSWX, was created to serve the student population here through a professionalized service-learning model for meteorology students.

In many ways, it’s a symbiotic relationship—the program benefits students in the meteorology major, as they gain a real-world perspective of what it means to work in the forecasting private sector, and everyone at WKU, as they enjoy the advantages of having what director Josh Durkee describes as a highly localized weather service right where they are.

“It’s only the end of year one, and it’s already been wildly successful … this time last year, we were sort of finalizing the idea for what we thought it could be,” Durkee said.

He went on to discuss the impact the growth and early success of White Squirrel Weather, as well as what resources it offers students—everything from radar to maps to emergency information.

In the time since its founding, WSWX has grown from a staff of three to a diverse group of forecasters, web developers, and emergency management responders, consisting predominantly of meteorology students. They work at the weather station to gain valuable experience in the field and develop skills they’ll use in their profession.

There’s also a story behind White Squirrel Weather Service’s name. As many WKU students know, white squirrels are sort of an unofficial mascot of the university, and one of them scurrying up a tree or perching on a root is not an uncommon sight around WKU’s campus and the city of Bowling Green, so when the time came to pick a mascot, a white squirrel was the obvious choice.

Finding a name, however, was a bit more difficult.

“We wanted one that was related to weather,” Durkee said. “I turned to my nine-year-old daughter and asked her what a good weather name for a squirrel would be, and immediately she said ‘Windy’, so that’s our mascot.”

He also said it was important that the squirrel be female because many mascots in today’s world are male, and this way, Windy could better represent women in science. So far, both Windy and White Squirrel Weather have been huge hits at WKU.

Perhaps, even more important than beloved Windy, though, are the opportunities afforded student meteorologists by the program she represents.

Pierce Larkin is a senior and a student forecaster at WSWX. He has been at White Squirrel since it began staffing with students in March this year, and he said the weather service is what turned him to forecasting for the private sector.

“It’s different from public weather services,” Larkin said. “It’s more to provide support to people who don’t necessarily want the scientific lingo, they just need a simple weather report.”

Durkee said WSWX is already beginning to see results of the weather service’s hard work.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said. “We want to keep giving our students professional experience outside the classroom and developing great partnerships with our community.”

Reporter Sarah Yaacoub can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahyaacoub1.