College of Education and Behavioral Sciences News
2 new faculty members join WKU meteorology program
- WKU News
- Wednesday, September 21st, 2022
Left: Dr. Jerald (Jerry) Brotzge, director of the Kentucky Climate Center and the Kentucky Mesonet at WKU. Right: Dr. Zachary Suriano, assistant professor of Meteorology. (WKU photos by Clinton Lewis)
New Western Kentucky University meteorology faculty members Dr. Jerald (Jerry) Brotzge and Dr. Zachary Suriano are excited to join a program that is poised for more growth and student success.
Dr. Brotzge, a native of Shepherdsville, returns to his home state as the director of the Kentucky Climate Center and the Kentucky Mesonet at WKU and will serve as the State Climatologist. He replaces Dr. Stuart Foster, who retired last year.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to come back to my home state and continue the work to build out the Mesonet and collaborate with our partners across the state,” said Dr. Brotzge, who had served as Program Manager of the New York State Mesonet at the University at Albany since 2014.
Dr. Brotzge and Dr. Suriano were attracted by WKU’s applied research focus and the meteorology program’s emphasis on experiential learning opportunities for students.
“One of the big parts that attracted me to the program was its reputation,” said Dr. Suriano, assistant professor of Meteorology in WKU’s Department of Earth, Environmental, and Atmospheric Sciences. “It’s a program where undergraduate students are brought into experiences that they just don’t receive at other programs at this level. That student-centered mentality was something that excited me and made me want to be a part of it.”
Dr. Brotzge agreed. “The hands-on experience and course work is really unique. It really does outshine a lot of larger programs,” he said.
“Meteorology is one of our fastest-growing programs,” said Dr. David Brown, Dean of the Ogden College of Science and Engineering. “Dr. Brotzge and Dr. Suriano are excellent additions to our faculty who will add distinct but complementary strengths to the program. Their addition to Ogden College will help strengthen the ties between our Kentucky Climate Center, including the Kentucky Mesonet, and our Department of Earth, Environmental, and Atmospheric Sciences. This development will greatly benefit our students and their professional experience.”
University Meteorologist Josh Durkee said the new faculty members’ expertise and experience in climate research and atmospheric science will benefit WKU students. “That gives us greater breadth to the program and expands our opportunities for students,” he said.
Dr. Brotzge’s goals at WKU include continuing to expand the Mesonet, building more partnerships and increasing research opportunities for students.
The Kentucky Mesonet at WKU, which began operations in 2007, has 76 stations in 71 counties. “Our vision is to have a Mesonet station in every county,” he said.
The Mesonet stations collect real-time, high-quality data that is used for all aspects of meteorology – aviation, agriculture, emergency management, health, fire, weather and transportation. “A mesonet is the best way to monitor climate,” Dr. Brotzge said. “You have the same instrumentation and the same way of collecting the data across an entire state.”
Dr. Brotzge has worked with the mesonets in New York and Oklahoma. After he earned a bachelor’s degree in meteorology at St. Louis University in 1994, he went to the University of Oklahoma where he earned his master’s in 1997 and a Ph.D. in 2000. In Oklahoma, Dr. Brotzge served as a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for the Analysis and Prediction of Storms (CAPS) and Director of NetRad Operations for CASA (Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere).
In 2014, Dr. Brotzge joined the University of Albany to help launch the New York State Mesonet. His work there included collaborating with state agencies as well as creating a micronet for New York City and a roadside network for the New York State Thruway.
“One of the things that got me started in meteorology was that I have an uncle who was a forest ranger in Letcher County,” Dr. Brotzge said. “When I would visit him, I would help him take the measurements. That was a lot of fun to learn about instrumentation and see how that worked. That helped get me started in meteorology.”
For Dr. Suriano, it was a different story. “I liked being outdoors and I was curious about the natural world, but being an atmospheric scientist was nowhere close to being on my radar until I was a sophomore or junior in college.”
That’s when he met a physics professor at the University of Notre Dame who was teaching a class in climate physics. “I took this class with him and it was just eye opening that this entire discipline was something I had never considered,” he said.
He took an introduction to meteorology class as a graduate student at the University of Delaware. “I was a graduate student with a bunch of first-year freshmen. But the opportunity to be a professor, to have the freedom to ask questions, to continue to be curious and to showcase what atmospheric sciences could be for students has been really rewarding.”
Dr. Suriano received his bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Notre Dame in 2012, then completed graduate work at the University of Delaware, where he earned a master’s in Geography in 2014 and Ph.D. in Climatology in 2018.
His research includes high-impact meteorological events, such as snowfall, snow melt, drought and extreme precipitation.
Dr. Suriano is looking forward to utilizing the resources of the Kentucky Climate Center in his research, including one project studying the impact of rainfall on ground covered by snow and how to improve those forecasts.
“A project like that’s going to rely on the amazing infrastructure WKU already has,” he said. “Having the Mesonet and the Climate Center are huge troves of data that are right at students’ fingertips.”
The 15 years of Kentucky Mesonet data coupled with historic records from the Kentucky Climate Center is a tremendous resource that can be used for student research and to create products for statewide partners, Dr. Brotzge said.
“One goal we have here is to make this a truly statewide program,” Dr. Brotzge said. “One of the things we want to achieve with the Kentucky Climate Center is to make it a place where the general public comes to get information.”
The Kentucky Climate Center can put the Mesonet’s real-time data into a climatological perspective.
“A lot of times we will have an extreme event, whether a heat wave or a cold wave, and our memory plays tricks on us. It is the Kentucky Climate Center’s job to put that into perspective,” he said. “In some ways, weather events seem more extreme now because we have more weather data, more weather information and much faster communication. That’s one of the challenges of comparing data now to then.”
Adding new research opportunities can open the door for undergraduate students who are looking for ways to apply their interest in meteorology beyond broadcasting, forecasting and academics into areas like agriculture, health, transportation and more, Dr. Brotzge said.
“WKU is the perfect place to do that because of the involvement of undergraduates in research and the partnerships we have statewide,” he said.
Dr. Durkee said the two new faculty members will help the program achieve its vision. “We’ve been building toward this notion that with the meteorology program, the Emergency Management Disaster Science program and the Homeland Security Sciences program, we’ve got a multidisciplinary approach and a robust experiential learning framework to be a weather and climate hub of excellence for this part of the country,” he said.
- More information: Department of Earth, Environmental, and Atmospheric Sciences; WKU Meteorology; Kentucky Mesonet at WKU; Kentucky Climate Center
Western Kentucky University prides itself on positioning its students, faculty and staff for long term success. As a student-centered, applied research university, WKU helps students expand on classroom learning by integrating education with real-world applications in the communities we serve. Our hilltop campus is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which was recently named by Reader’s Digest as one of the nicest towns in America, just an hour’s drive from Nashville, Tennessee.