When Lee Carlaw was 7, he strapped himself to the roof of his Bethesda, Md., home during a thunderstorm. Much to his mother’s dismay, Lee sat on the roof and waited, as he told her, to “experience the fury of nature.”
Since then, Lee has found safer ways of exploring high-impact weather as part of the Meteorology Program in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
Cornell is the only Ivy League school to offer a degree in meteorology, and the department is incredibly tight-knit. Lee’s acceptance letter from Cornell was quickly followed by a hand-written note from an upperclassman in the program.
The program also has a fantastic student-teacher ratio and offers students great opportunities to practice meteorology, Lee said.
For example, meteorology students at Cornell are called upon to present the weather at Ithaca College Television, an Emmy Award-winning collegiate network. Twice a week, Lee generates long- and short-term forecasts, synthesizes them, and then goes on camera to deliver a succinct report.
“I don’t think you really understand your field until you can translate what you learn for the general public,” he said.
Lee also has gained experience farther afield.
An internship at the National Weather Service near Portland, Maine, allowed him to further hone his forecasting skills and practice other aspects of “operational meteorology,” disseminating weather information to the public. He also got to launch a weather balloon.
During his work experience at New England Cable News, where he worked alongside meteorologist Matt Noyes ’00, a tornado touched down in Springfield, Mass., necessitating a quick response to keep viewers aware of the latest developments and deliver much-needed advice on how to protect their lives and property.
“The experience highlighted for me how my field was intrinsically connected with saving people’s lives,” Lee said.
He was also struck by the impact of weather during his research with Professor Natalie Mahowald. The project examined a noted trend in decreasing rainfall amounts in East and Central Africa, creating a drought that was causing famine and other dire problems across the region.
He now plans to continue studying the social implications of weather at the University of Oklahoma. He hopes to research how improvements in radar tracking systems can save lives as global climate change affects storm intensity.