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Weather Guys get new platform at Why Files Web site

March 5, 2010 By David Tenenbaum

The Weather Guys — two University of Wisconsin–Madison professors of atmospheric sciences — will now appear at The Why Files, a Web site that covers science behind the headlines.

After 12 years of answering weather questions on call-in radio — more recently in the Wisconsin State Journal — Steve Ackerman and Jonathan Martin are convinced that weather fascinates average citizens much as it does weather specialists.

“I contend there is no other science, including medicine, that hits people in the face every day, with the frequency and drama of the atmosphere,” says Martin, “and we take advantage of that interest as an educational opportunity to show how science works.”

Exploring the methods and mechanisms of science has always been a primary goal of The Why Files, says editor and co-founder Terry Devitt. “We’re very excited about the opportunity to work with The Weather Guys. Who’s not interested in the weather? The expertise they bring to the table is considerable.”

The most intriguing questions during their monthly appearances on a call-in show at Wisconsin Public Radio are those that cannot be answered, says Ackerman. “People observe things we haven’t seen before. Years ago, somebody asked about a rainbow shaped like an ‘N.’ What the heck could that be? Nobody has fully explained it, but reflections off the water must play a role because they seem to happen only over water.”

This caller, like many, faced a barrage of questions: “When? Where? At what temperature? Where was the sun?” that the Weather Guys ask before formulating their explanation.

The Weather Guys are known to appreciate a good laugh, but they answer questions from the public because “we are firm believers in the Wisconsin Idea, that it’s helpful to get UW–Madison expertise out around the state and beyond, and because it’s fun, and because we learn,” says Ackerman.

The show does attract some chestnuts — Why is the sky blue? Why is the sky green before a tornado? — but the questions have improved over time, says Martin. “I think, in a small way, we’ve helped people to appreciate the process of science: The reliance on data and physical laws, the need for skepticism, the collaborative nature. Being a Weather Guy is nice work if you can get it, especially since everybody gets to learn something in the process.”

Why Files readers will be able to send their own questions to the Weather Guys through The Weather Guys appear weekly in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Tags: weather