ADOT and ASU form partnership to provide real-time weather updates

ASU geographical sciences graduate student Paul Panhans has always been fascinated with thunderstorms, and now, as part of a new partnership between the University and the Arizona Department of Transportation, Panhans’ fascinations will be fulfilled.

Starting Jan. 11, he will be an intern at ADOT to coordinate with the National Weather Service to provide weather updates that facilitate ADOT’s response to various transportation issues in throughout the state.

“One of the big roles I’ll be playing is to be a liaison between the National Weather Service offices and the emergency managers and coordinators at ADOT,” Panhans said. “In addition, I’ll be able to provide more specific forecasts for their needs.”

This is not Panhans’ first experience in the field. Previously, the U.S. Air Force veteran was an intern at the National Weather Service itself, and he said returning there as a bona fide employee is his ultimate goal.

The internship will provide several opportunities to aid him in return.

“Any experience you can get forecasting, especially in a real world scenario will make you that much better of a forecaster, so no matter what happens in this, I’ll definitely learn,” he said. “Additionally, this opens up a lot of different job opportunities.”

He said most meteorologists don’t end up at the weather service or working on television. Rather, they take jobs like the one he will be entering at airports, transportation departments and so on.

Some states have meteorologists as full time staff, while others like Arizona rely on contacting the weather service, said Randall Cerveny, a president’s professor at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and one of the originators of the new partnership.

Panhans will be that staff member at ADOT for the duration of the internship.

The partnership came about when Cerveny shared an appearance on the PBS show "Arizona Horizon" with an ADOT employee about six months ago.

“As we were sitting in the green room, we got talking about the possible interaction of ASU meteorology and the Department of Transportation,” he said. “We started working on it, getting through all the legal paperwork and everything and we got it all set up.”

Comparatively, Cerveny said little work has been done on weather in the Southwest, putting the partnership “at the forefront of weather.”

Part of Panhans’ role at ADOT will be to provide forecasts more tailored to the needs of the department than those the NWS could offer.

“It’s an effort to get out information as quickly as possible, so we (ADOT) can plan out when we need to put out our resources, where we need to put out snow plows, where are we looking at the heaviest rainfall, and so on,” ADOT Public Information Officer Tom Herrmann said.

Herrmann said he feels Paul’s past experience with the NWS and the Air Force make him an excellent fit for the partnership, and that if all goes well, he could imagine the partnership continuing with other students.

“We’re very excited about how this is going to benefit our work at ADOT, the students from ASU, and most importantly the drivers who need those roads safe and clear,” Herrmann said.

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Reach the reporter at arren.kimbel-sannit@asu.edu or follow @akimbelsannit on Twitter

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