Texas A&M meteorology student Stephanie Stevenson’s work extends beyond the desks of an Aggie classroom into the icy tundra of the Alaskan wilderness.
The honors student helped two sisters make history in the Iditarod Sled Dog race. Stevenson forecasted for twin mushers Anna and Kristy Berington, the first pair of sisters to compete in a race, in which three out of four racers are men.
As a student in Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon’s ATMO 456 class, Practical Weather Forecasting, Stevenson contacted the sisters, researched the race, and tailored her forecast specifically to the mushers’ needs.
A 975-mile race spanning from nine to 17 days from the first to last finishers, the Iditarod is characterized by its harsh weather, sub zero temperatures, winds able to cause complete loss of visibility, dangerous overflow from creeks and rivers, and extended hours of darkness.
Mushers must make crucial in-race decisions for themselves and their team of dogs based heavily on the weather that could save hours at their finish time.
“They could determine where to take their required 24-hour layover. For example, they would choose not to race when blizzard conditions were expected,” Stevenson said. “Weather forecasts also help mushers determine when to put jackets on their dogs. If temperatures are extremely cold, they can put on the jackets to save their energy so they do not tire as quickly.”
Putting her classroom experience to use in a real-world application, Stevenson created a 12-day outlook for temperature, wind speed, precipitation amounts, wind chill, and visibility based on their expected location on the Iditarod trail. She also provided day-to-day forecasts for their racing blog.
The Iditarod Trail’s colorful history and heroic legends of mail, gold, supplies, and life-saving medicines traveling through the treacherous Alaskan countryside by dog sled was memorialized 40 years ago with this annual race.
Stevenson was glad to be a part of the history.
“It turned out to be a great learning experience and the forecast I provided to the twins turned out to be pretty accurate,” she said. “Completing the project gave me more confidence in my forecasting capabilities.”
She owes much of her success to the undergraduate classes that prepared her for this task.
“A majority of the undergraduate program for meteorology focuses on general concepts of the atmosphere,” Stevenson said. “The forecasting class allows us to apply all of these concepts in real time.”
The twins crossed the finish line hand-in-hand after 12 days on the course, coming in 43rd and 44th place out of 69 teams. The Beringtons were thankful for Stevenson’s work, and even hope to use her expertise again.
As for Stevenson’s future plans, she will graduate this May and attend the graduate school of University in Albany studying the rapid intensification and weakening of hurricanes. She plans to obtain her doctoral degree and pursue a career as a researcher.
For more information and pictures of the twins’ race, visit their blog.
April 13, 2012
Katy Ralston '12