As an atmospheric sciences major in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Sillin has used his platform for everything from monitoring developing storms, to combining datasets to reveal new observations about how radar coverage intersects with other societal issues.
Recently, when he overlayed demographic data with radar coverage in the South, he noticed that the majority of the areas with large radar gaps were also areas with majority Black populations. He shared his insight in a tweet that garnered more than 155 retweets, 74 quote tweets and 492 likes.
Sillin’s tweet sparked a conversation among the meteorology community — catching the attention of J. Marshall Shepherd, a well-known meteorologist and professor of geography and atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia. Shepherd wrote a piece in Forbes that dove deeper into Sillin’s observation.
Shepherd took his analysis one step further and made the connection between population density and radar coverage. He suggested that less populated areas are more likely to experience radar gaps. In acknowledging that these gaps are apt to affect Black communities in the South, Shepherd said that this might also affect other population demographics in different parts of the country.
He also pointed out that in addition to radar gaps, the South has a history of disproportionate resource allocation in areas such as medical care, education and other essential resources. Both Shepherd and Sillin said that the metrological community should do more to cover the radar gaps and make sure critical weather forecasts are reaching rural Black populations.
“When the government goes to allocate scarce resources, this part of the country tends to be underserved,” Sillin said. “I was glad to see this got people thinking about this problem. And as we go to remedy the many inequities that exist around the country, especially in this part of the country, we should add weather radar to that list.”
Sillin also felt humbled to have Shepherd share his perspective on this topic and advance the conversation on another highly visible platform. He said, “It was an honor to have Dr. Shepherd take a look at this and find it worthy of some more thorough consideration.”
This wasn’t the first time Sillin had a significant interaction with well-known people in the meteorology community on Twitter, another one being with Joerg Kachelmann, the CEO of weather.us, a Swiss weather startup.
In 2016, Kachelmann saw a tweet from Sillin presenting the forecast for Hurricane Matthew, and he reached out to offer him a job at the startup. Sillin worked at weather.us for more than three years before recommending one of his classmates for the job so that he could pursue other opportunities found through the Twitter community.
“It's been especially cool to be able to pass the torch to some of my classmates and try to give them some of the opportunities that I had through Twitter,” Sillin said.
One of the most valuable aspects of Sillin’s undergraduate experience at Cornell has been learning to communicate complex concepts clearly and concisely through teaching opportunities in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS).
“I think to be an effective scientist, you need to communicate your science to decision makers,” Sillin said, “and my teaching experience has really given me some new tools to do that.”
He helped develop curriculum for new courses in the department, working with faculty to think about the best ways to present information to help future students understand difficult theories and models. He worked with Peter Hitchcock, assistant professor in EAS, and Mark Wysocki, senior lecturer in EAS, to refine new courses that use Python — a computer programming language — for quantitative visualizations of atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics.
Sillin said, “Having a voice in the room with curriculum development and class development has been a huge part of my college experience and my growth as a person and as a student.”
Erin Philipson is a communication specialist in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, a shared unit between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering.
Header image: A thunderstorm approaches farm fields outside of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Photo by Dave Hoefler via Unsplash.
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