When aspiring meteorologists Lauren Elston or Ethan Rosuck look up to the skies and check their forecasts, the pair never forget that in Indiana, weather conditions can change in an instant.

“Indiana may be one of the most challenging places to do weather forecasting,” said Lauren. “One day it can be freezing cold and the next day it can be really warm. Precipitation can go from rain to snow and back to rain in just a matter of moments. You have to keep on top of it because of the rapid changes.”

Cardinal Weather Service students

To perfect their forecast, Ethan Rosuck (left) and Lauren Elston use a digital anemometer designed to determine wind speed.

Ethan believes Indiana is one of the few states that can encounter all four seasons in just a few days.

“That is what makes weather forecasting fun as well as challenging,” he said. “The atmosphere loves to play havoc with our forecasts.”

‘Toughest Client’

Lauren and Ethan have been honing their meteorology and climatology skills as members of the recently created Cardinal Weather Service (CWS), a student-driven forecasting service that provides daily weather information for Ball State Athletics, Delaware County Futbol Club, and the Cardinal Greenway.

After meeting with their new clients, students are responsible for generating daily forecasts. CWS members are based in a forecasting center located on the fourth floor of Ball State’s Cooper Science Building.

“The toughest client we have is the Cardinal Greenway,” said Lauren, who noted the nonprofit organization supports Indiana’s longest span of recreational trails.

With 62 paved miles running from Sweetser through Marion and Muncie to Losantville and Richmond in east central Indiana, Cardinal Greenway has the toughest weather to predict, said Lauren.

“Those are four locations that can have different types of weather at the same time,” she said. “It can be snowing in Marion, raining in Muncie and sunny in Richmond.”

Customized forecasts

CWS was initially funded through a Provost Immersive Learning Grant and is now a regularly offered course in the Department of Geography in the College of Sciences and Humanities.

Ethan counts CWS among the highlights of his Ball State experience.

“Indiana may be one of the most challenging places to do weather forecasting,” said Lauren Elston.

“Students in the department, after going through some prerequisite classes, all work together and come up with the most customized forecasts for our clients,” he said.

“This program enhances my forecasting, which I can use for other student organizations I am involved in.” Those include NewsLink Indiana and WCRD-FM, Ball State’s student-run radio station.

“Plus, CWS enhanced my networking and sales opportunities since I was promoting our company to potential clientele and Ball State students and faculty. I can guarantee you that there are not many schools that have this or anything remotely close to this.”

Meteorology students are also earning college credits in an environment where they actually drive the operation, said Petra Zimmermann, a geography professor who works with CWS members.

“They are not only augmenting their classroom knowledge, they are learning the so-called soft skills, including communication proficiencies and learning to work in a team, that are prized by employers,” she said.

Infectious enthusiasm

The Cardinal Weather Service also has become an important recruiting tool for the Department of Geography, which houses the meteorology and climatology degree program.

“Few programs offer the chance to earn college credits for forecasting for external clients and this positions Ball State’s program as a unique one in which students gain proficiency in the operational side of meteorology and climatology,” said the associate professor.

“Prospective students get a chance to see the forecast facilities and speak with involved students as they tour the department and campus. The enthusiasm of the CWS forecasters is infectious.”