Student Profile

Matt Daniel and Jared Rackley

For people living in Athens, chances are most of their weather updates come from a television station in Atlanta. While forecasters there generally try to report on weather across the state, they tend to focus more on the major cities, and smaller towns can get lost in the shuffle.

Even with the explosion of online and mobile weather applications, it's often hard to find detailed weather analysis in more rural areas.

That's what inspired Matt Daniel, a University of Georgia undergraduate in atmospheric sciences from Social Circle, to create the hyper-local weather blog athensgaweather.com. With his colleague Jared Rackley, a Forsyth native also studying atmospheric sciences at UGA, Daniel provides free, up-to-the-minute weather forecasts and updates online for residents in Clarke and the surrounding counties.

"I feel like it's important to have someone who knows the area reporting the weather," said Daniel, who also is a regular contributor to EarthSky.org. "Not only can Jared and I provide quality weather reports, but we can also be very specific when we tell people about potential hazards or dangerous conditions."

Daniel and Rackley have covered a number of major weather events, from the crippling drought that has raged in some parts of Georgia for more than a year to the January 2011 snowstorm that broke the record in Athens for the most snowfall over a 24-hour period.

Because Daniel and Rackley know the area so well, they often warn people about hazardous weather approaching small areas like public parks or heavily traveled highways—a service meteorologists at larger operations simply don't have time to provide, Daniel said.

But their blog isn't limited to severe weather. Every day, Daniel and Rackley create detailed forecasts for their local readers, telling them when to bring their umbrellas to work or bundle up for an unexpected cold snap.

Analyzing and predicting weather requires a lot of training, experience and a tremendous amount of technical knowledge, but Daniel and Rackley are more than up to the task, said Marshall Shepherd, director of UGA's atmospheric sciences program and president of the American Meteorological Society.

"They are top-notch and some of the best young forecasters in the nation," said Shepherd, who also is a professor of geography in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "They embody the quality and rigor of our atmospheric science program."

While Daniel and Rackley take their responsibilities to the local community seriously, it's clear from the way they describe memorable storms or debate the significance of clouds forming to the west that this is a labor of love.

"Everyone is interested in the weather to some extent because it affects everyone on the planet every day," Rackley said. "For me, it's a little bit more than that; it's almost an unnatural obsession.

"People here have a need for better local weather, and Matt and I can address that need through the blog. The community gets important information about the weather and we get to improve our skills; it's a win-win situation for us both."

For more information on their forecasts, see athensgaweather.com or follow them on Twitter or Facebook. An interview with the students is available on YouTube.

ARTICLE BY JAMES HATAWAY, OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT FOR RESEARCH