One night, Pete Pokrandt, was out walking his dog when he witnessed a meteor streaking through the sky over west Madison. It broke through the atmosphere in a stunning flash of light.
When he returned home, he realized there was probably video footage of the event – and he had access to it. Pokrandt is the computer systems administrator for the University of Wisconsin–Madison department that boasts one of the tallest buildings in Madison – Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences – and he manages a series of cameras on the building’s roof.
Situated atop the building on Dayton Street, the cameras point in every cardinal direction and record daily weather above the isthmus for 16 hours a day.When Pokrandt got into work the next day, he checked the feed. Sure enough, the cameras recorded the meteor as it blazed across the sky above Camp Randall Stadium, followed by a brief flash of light.
He wanted to share it, so he stitched the footage into a timelapse video that he posted to YouTube. The next day, he spent hours fielding calls from reporters asking permission to use the footage in their own stories about the meteor. The clip was even featured by the Washington Post.
Pokrandt’s love for weather began when he was in the second grade. The meteorologists from Milwaukee’s TMJ4 came to his school and showed his class satellite photos of weather events and played games with the class.
After nearly four decades, including some adventures storm chasing across the Great Plains, Pokrandt still gets excited about weather. “Every day there is something interesting to see outside,” he says.
He also enjoys helping other people get excited about weather, too, which is why he now makes it a point to share all kinds of footage from the rooftop cameras on the 15-story AOSS building, which also houses satellite dishes and instruments that record temperature, moisture, pressure, precipitation and solar radiation.
The cameras record still photographs of the sky every ten seconds and when Pokrandt sees or hears about an interesting cloud formation, storm front, or water spout, he records the time, reviews the footage and stitches the still photos together into a timelapse. He then posts those timelapses to his department’s YouTube page. There is also an archive of all the footage, available to the public.
“It’s interesting to be able to see something in the data and watch what happened as that change went by, or vice versa,” Pokrandt said. “There’s some property of the atmosphere that caused that to happen, and having those collocated observations and cameras let’s you see that.”
The results are a moving tapestry of the changes that occur above our heads every day.
Pokrandt also sees the timelapse videos as a vehicle for public education about weather.
“When I do post videos to the YouTube channel, I try to give some indication of what it is that you’re looking at and some of the meteorology behind it,” he says.“I do try to make it educational in that sense, too, where there’s some description of what you’re seeing rather than just ‘Wow, this is a pretty cool loop!’”
The rooftop cameras are a joint effort between the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and the Space Science and Engineering Center, which contributes funding and technical assistance.
Video produced by Craig Wild, University Communications