It’s raining weathermen at Williams

Imagine two shadowy figures facing each other on Spring Street. “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us,” one might say to another, as they instinctively reach into their holsters and pull out . . . weather models. Perhaps this is not quite how Kyle Victor ’11 and Todd Bustard ’10 are resolving their amateur meteorology battle, but there is certainly some tension that exists – at least on Bustard’s part.

For years, Victor and Bustard have independently cultivated their passion for the weather, but now their hobby is no longer unique. Since arriving on campus, Victor and Bustard have each begun their own blog, regularly posting weather predictions for Williamstown. But such two similar blogs just invites a competition between the two meteorologists, so the only way to resolve the dispute is through a good ole fashioned weather forecasting battle.

At first, Bustard already saw the existence of Victor’s blog as a weatherman’s challenge, but now he’s sure that he has already won the fight. “Let’s see . . . I think of it as a friendly competition. But he hasn’t written [on his blog] in a while, so I am counting that as him bowing out of the race,” he said

Victor sees the competition somewhat differently. “It really doesn’t bother me that there is another amateur meteorologist,” Victor said. “At home no one else was interested in meteorology, so whenever I would bring it up, people would sigh and turn away. I think it’s actually good that someone else is interested in it. It’s really surprising because not very many people are.”

Meteorology is definitely a peculiar hobby that requires extensive research. In order to make even a seemingly simple prediction requires an extensive knowledge of meteorology models. It doesn’t sound that hard until an examination of such a model, which to most people resembles more of a Paint masterpiece than an image that can be used to forecast the weather for days to come. It takes a trained eye to make sense of the jumbles of lines and splotches on a meteorology model, but for Victor and Bustard, it has become second nature.

“I don’t really remember how I started [meteorology],” Victor said. “It’s something that has interested me for a really long time. I remember this one event in fifth grade when there wasn’t supposed to be snow, and when I woke up there was [snow]. School ended up being cancelled and it became my favorite snowstorm. That’s when I decided I wanted to learn about meteorology.”

What was once a childhood curiosity has now become a regular hobby for Victor who spends up to hours each day reading and analyzing weather models. Since elementary school, Victor has been studying the intricacies of meteorology through reading blogs and professionals’ predictions. Bustard also began to actively study meteorology through making predictions on the weather at an early age. “I started [amateur meteorology] in high school, but I never made predictions until this year,” Bustard said. “It was a transition at first. I would look at radars once in a while and I also read this guy’s blog. He includes information about why things happen. Once I got into the basic models, it became a slippery slope for me.”

Since the initiation of his descent into meteorology, Bustard has progressively built up his arsenal of weather forecasting skills. In predicting the days’ conditions, Bustard relies on a variety of informants to make accurate calculations on temperatures, precipitation and airstreams.

“I look at a bunch of sources – I especially look at a lot of professional bloggers,” Bustard said. “Most of the complex models that professionals use to make their own forecasts are put out by the government, so if you really want to, you can find them. But I haven’t taken a course or anything like that.”

Victor, while not a professional, also works with the various government meteorology models to make his trained weather forecasts. “There are tons of models that often show different solutions. You have to get a feel for it because some are better at predicting for different types of weather. With meteorology, you have to take it with a big grain of salt,” he said.

Making weather predictions can be valuable, but it means nothing if no one has access to it. That’s why Victor decided to start his own blog to post his forecasts for students at the College. But writing a blog is not as easy as it seems; Victor can spend hours at a time just collecting enough information to build an accurate forecast.

“It depends on the weather,” Victor said. “If it’s an ordinary day, it only takes a few minutes. But if there is a storm, it can take up to an hour to make predictions. I really like looking at [the storm] as it develops because it’s really exciting. To make a detailed forecast, it can get really intense.”

Bustard, too, started his own weather blog once he came to Williamstown. “I only started the blog this year . . . I do have a hit counter on my blog and it is up to around 250 right now. I only added it a month ago. I am also proud to say that only half of those hits are from me and my dad. At least someone else is looking,” he said. “I make my own predictions and critically look at the [weather] models. I try to explain the weather and include images. That’s what I love the most about it – pretty pictures.”

But how can these pretty pictures predict with such accuracy the weather forecast for Friday on Monday? And how do they explain the recent inconsistent weather?

“It can be below freezing at different levels [of the atmosphere],” Bustard said. “So if it is below freezing at the surface and above freezing [at a level] above that, you will get sleet or ice. But if it is freezing all the way up, then you get snow. That’s what’s happening right now where it’s not freezing at all levels, so you get mixes of different weather like sleet and ice.”

While Bustard uses the discrepancies in the atmosphere to explain the recent irregular weather, Victor looks at the bigger picture through analyzing the La Niña, “an area of cool water off of the Pacific Coast of South America, [which] tends to strengthen the Pacific jet stream . . . This winter, the jet stream is strong enough that it keeps pushing these cold air masses out to sea every time they try to progress southward, bringing very erratic temperatures,” he said.

Just as the two weren’t on the same page in explaining the weather, the campus meteorologists also have different opinions about each other. But that doesn’t mean that Victor is not up for some friendly competition. “He updated yesterday,” Victor said as he navigates around Bustard’s blog. “Yeah . . . I should update more. If he wants to have a competition, then sure, I am up for it. But I don’t need to be the only meteorologist on campus. I am open to a contest. I think it would be fun.”

The stage is set. The clash of the amateur meteorologists between Bustard and Victor will finally determine once and for all who is the superior weatherman. Using their respective models and expertise, the two both made forecasts for today last Friday. So who is the better meteorologist? Both Bustard and Victor have pulled out the tools of the trade to establish their know-how in the subject. Whether their predictions can weather the storm is a question only today’s weather can tell.