Writer / Janelle Morrison Photos / Submitted
Several of Zionsville’s residents witnessed firsthand the force of nature twice last year. Per the National Weather Service, two tornado touchdowns were recorded in the Zionsville area – an EF-1 in April and an EF-2 in August 2016. While these incidents enthralled local weather watchers and “storm chasers” alike, it created a heightened sense of preparedness and awareness among residents and public safety officials.
Indianapolis meteorologist Kevin Gregory with WRTV Channel 6 (RTV6) has been contributing to the awareness and education of Indiana weather through his summer weather camps. Gregory will be bringing his camp back to Zionsville this July at the local library. He has been putting on these camps throughout the RTV6 viewing area for nearly two decades. He travels to four to five locations each summer and talks to kids about Indiana weather and the science behind the forecast. He also performs hands-on experiments that educate and entertain his young audiences.
The name Gregory is synonymous with weather in Indianapolis. Kevin Gregory’s father, Bob, worked at WTHR for three decades. Gregory admits that he learned a lot growing up by going to work with his father and observing his easy-going style and commitment to the community. “We acknowledge that people are afraid of storms,” Gregory said of the Weather Camp program. “I was terrified of storms as kid. It would be storming outside, and I’d be over in the neighbor’s basement crying. That had to be an embarrassment to my father. We had no basement, so when we’d get a storm, I’d be like ‘I’m out of here’ and would head to the neighbor’s basement.”
When Gregory is not forecasting the weather for RTV6, he is often in the community teaching the next generation about the weather. He has visited hundreds of elementary schools over the years and hosts Kevin’s Weather Camp each July. This year, Gregory is teaming up with the Energy-IUPUI Mobile Science Lab. The mobile lab is equipped with interactive technology tools to bring science to life. The topic of this hands-on lesson is “The Energy of Storms.” The aim is to encourage more kids to pursue careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) while teaching them the basics about our local weather patterns.
Utilizing a mobile resource lab equipped with interactive technology tools, web interface, and GIS mapping capabilities, the mobile technology trailer program travels to communities and schools to provide free educational programming. The mobile lab will also be visiting parks and schools during the summer.
Samuel (Sam) Ansaldi is the education specialist for the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at IUPUI in Indianapolis. Ansaldi oversees the education outreach program that was established in 2006 and the mobile lab. The directors of the organization formed a partnership with Duke Energy that has led to the expansion of the mobile STEM learning initiative and a grant given by Duke in the amount of $400,000 to fund the project for the next three years.
“With that grant, we were given the ability to design a new mobile science education lab,” Ansaldi said. “The one that we were using previously was a pull trailer that was about 10 years old, and it was time to update our facilities and technology. This past year, we have developed a fully functional green-energy mobile lab that focuses on alternative energy sources including solar and wind power and a little bit of everything. The vehicle itself has working solar panels on top of it and a working wind turbine.
“When we began working with Kevin and RTV6, we began looking into the possibility and the technological developments of generating electricity from natural disasters. This work has been done part and parcel around the world with things like tidal wave systems, but when it came to tornadoes, hurricanes, the unpredictability of the winds and the predictability of touchdowns, no one had developed any really good technologies.
“One of the questions that we pose to the kids is: ‘Is it possible to harness the energy of a tornado or an earthquake?’ We simulate a tornado in our mobile lab. If you’re going to try to find a way to harness energy from it, you should know what it looks like and understand the science behind it. With the help of some boiling water, dry ice and a properly placed ventilation system, we are able to create a cyclone within a box. The kids get to see what that swirling vortex looks like up close and how it changes depending on the air and pressure systems around it.”
The Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library is excited to host Gregory and Ansaldi this July as just one of the many programs they offer to the community.
“I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years, and I like to partner with community libraries,” Gregory said. “The very first camps that I held were at the Indianapolis Zoo, and I was at the Children’s Museum for a number of years. We started going out into the communities, traveling down to Bedford and all the way up to Muncie and all around the state. That way, kids who wanted to participate could do so without having to be in the Indy metro area.
“It really works well to partner with libraries such as the Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library in Zionsville because they offer great facilities, big meeting spaces, projectors, etc. Libraries are also a hub for local families to connect with their community, so it just works out well for everyone. Partnering with Sam and the mobile science lab is a great partnership. This is the first year that I’ve worked with
him, and there is some exciting stuff coming out of the mobile science lab.”
Kevin’s Weather Camp will be offered at the Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library July 27 at 11 a.m. It is open to families with children in grades 3-6. Registration is required at bit.ly/ZPLWeatherCamp.