UMass Lowell Students to Give Weather Reports for BAA During Boston Marathon

Patriots' Day Race Is Largest New England Sporting Event

Prof. Frank Colby conducts a dry run with his students.

Prof. Frank Colby conducts a dry run with his students.

04/12/2012
By Edwin L. Aguirre

Nineteen UMass Lowell students will participate at this year’s 116th Boston Marathon by providing live weather reports along the route of the 26.2-mile race.

Begun in 1897 and organized by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), the Boston Marathon is the world’s most prestigious and oldest annual marathon, attracting nearly 30,000 runners from around the world each year. It is viewed by up to half a million spectators annually, making it the most widely watched sporting event in New England. The telecast airs in more than 100 countries.

“This is the first time the BAA has asked an outside group to do weather monitoring as far as we know, so we’re pretty excited,” says Prof. Frank Colby of the Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EEAS) Department, who is heading the team. “The students taking part in this effort are undergraduate and graduate meteorology majors.”

To compete in the race, amateur and professional runners have to tackle Massachusetts’s hilly terrain and brave its varying weather conditions.

“Our students will be positioned at five locations along the route — at the starting line in Hopkinton, the 10K mark in Framingham, the halfway mark in Wellesley, the 30K mark near ‘Heartbreak Hill’ in Newton and the finish line in Boston,” says Colby. 

“They will be gathering real-time data — temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction as well as local sky and road conditions — and relay them to their fellow team members at the BAA media center at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza,” he says.

An Official Weather Record

The Boston Marathon has had its share of wide-ranging New England weather throughout its history, from heavy, torrential rains in 2007 to near-record heat in 2004, plus snow, sleet and even snow squalls in earlier decades.  So it’s important to keep a constant, vigilant eye on the sky. 

“This project will be a great learning experience,” says graduate student Chris Hoyt. “It’s interesting to see the weather’s variability throughout the race course.”

The BAA will use the real-time data to allow the media to effectively report on the race. The organization is also considering a study centered on weather conditions as they relate to athletic performance.

“In previous years, the BAA received weather reports from a vehicle that preceded the race leaders and also utilized data from Logan and Hanscom,” says Hoyt. “This year, we hope to be able to provide the real weather picture with microscale accuracy.”

Says Kris Vogt, a senior: “I’m really excited. I’ve always wanted to make weather observations, even as a young kid. Now I get to contribute real data to a major event before I graduate. I hope our data will become the official weather record for the marathon, and that other students will get to do this again next year.”

A Great Springboard

Established in 1967 by Prof. Robert Curtis as the Department of Meteorology at the then Lowell Technological Institute, the EEAS Department has proven to be a great springboard for launching careers as researchers and TV weather forecasters.

For example, Joe Venuti ’91 currently works as a meteorologist/technical specialist at MIT/Lincoln Lab in Lexington, helping to develop, test and maintain an experimental weather forecasting model for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that will enable air-traffic controllers to manage the National Airspace System more efficiently.

Many of the big-city TV stations across the country have UMass Lowell graduates on their weather teams. They include Danielle Niles ’06 at the New England Cable News (NECN), Sarah Wroblewski ’05 at Fox 25 News Boston, Barry Burbank ’72 at WBZ-TV and Shiri Spear ’07 at NBC 6 Miami.