Earth and Mineral Sciences

Harsh winter was time to shine for Penn State Campus Weather Service

Ben Reppert, a Penn State meteorology student and member of the Campus Weather Service, records a video forecast in front of a "green screen."  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

It was a long, cold winter for millions up and down the East Coast.

But Penn State meteorology student Ben Reppert didn’t spend it cursing a groundhog or counting down the days until spring. 

For Reppert and his fellow members of Penn State’s Campus Weather Service (CWS), winter was the time to shine. They had the important task of warning people of treacherous roads, school closings and other nasty side-effects of the season.

That might sound like a lot of responsibility, and pressure, for busy college students, but Reppert sees it another way. 

“It’s an adrenaline rush,” the senior said.

Members of the CWS, about 100 strong, every day produce a professional-quality forecast from the Walker Building on the University Park Campus and deliver it to audiences across Pennsylvania. 

On top of the normal rigors of college, CWS students spend their days mapping our forecast and sharing them with anyone who’s listening – through radio, video, newspaper and social media. They can deliver breaking news and even report live from locations around State College when the weather gets dicey. 

 “I’d say for a university program, this is about as close to the real thing as you can get,” said Ryan Breton, a Penn State meteorology student and CWS president.

For a meteorologist, that means when the weather gets bad, things get busy. And this winter was busy – cold and piling snow gripped much of the eastern United States for long stretches. 

So it wasn’t unusual for Brenton to be in the office at 10 p.m. on a Saturday ahead of an expected snow storm in central Pennsylvania. He spent 30 hours just that week in the group’s office, tucked in the impressive Penn State Joel N. Myers Weather Center.

 “It’s like we have an obligation to be on top of these things early, to sniff things out and just be ready for anything,” Reppert said. “It’s very exciting. It’s rewarding. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, the stress can be very aggravating, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

Even with winter winding down, it’s not time to relax for CWS. Forecasters meet three times a day to create and update the latest weather maps. Broadcasters have two shifts to do radio spots for stations across the state, and deliver weather information to the student newspaper,  The Daily Collegian, and the local television station,  C-Net, among others.

To help, they have access to the Weather Center’s television studio, complete with news desk and “green screen.” In the group’s office, a bank of monitors glows. One of the computers is equipped with top-notch graphics software.

“If anyone graduates and goes into television, and they’ve been through Campus Weather Service, they are going to be a pro at making graphics,” Breton said.

With all the technology they need at their fingertips, it’s up to the group to get their message out. CWS has grown steadily since it was formed in 1974, but in recent years the expansion has accelerated with the help of social media.

CWS broke 3,000 Twitter followers for the first time in January, and gained almost 500 more in the month that followed. Breton says it’s now the most followed university-related weather account in the country.   

“Having state-of-the-art graphics and people who know how to use them, tailor them and Tweet them makes it easy,” he said. “And not all schools have that. But we’ve been given the opportunity to run with everything we have.”

Knowing when to pick your moments also helps. The group has learned to push its forecasts when the most people are watching, like Penn State home football weekends. They made a few key calls this year, correctly predicting rain would hold off when others had it soaking the blue and white faithful.

Fans weren’t the only ones taking notice. Penn State coach James Franklin checked in with group to get his own personal forecast.

“When coach Franklin calls, you want to be right,” Breton said.  


Penn State meteorology student Ben Reppert demonstrates the computer program that allows the Campus Weather Service to create professional-quality weather graphics.  Credit: Matt Carroll / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated March 17, 2015