Sydney Rau and Zeb Leffler, Atmospheric and Earth Science students.
Sydney Rau and Zeb Leffler, Atmospheric and Earth Science students.

The Department of Atmospheric and Earth Sciences (AES) at the College of Science (COS) at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, serves as a dynamic hub for growing meteorologists seeking to unravel the mysteries of our planet's weather and beyond. Sydney Rau and Zeb Leffler have passionately pursued atmospheric science, forging their paths toward success as exceptional students.

Rau (23'), a rising senior, found her passion for atmospheric science after traveling from Brandon, South Dakota, to pursue her studies. Initially drawn to UAH for its excellent space program with aerospace engineering, her interest shifted toward weather, where she discovered her true calling.

"I get to go to the nerd school; that's amazing," Rau learned about UAH while attending space camp in her younger years. She now majors in Atmospheric and Earth Sciences, with a minor in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Among the diverse range of captivating classes, Rau highlights the profound impact of Mr. Ryan Wade's Severe Weather Analysis course. Mr. Wade, a Clinical Assistant Professor and Research Scientist during Sydney's time, served as an inspiring figure and played a crucial role in the program's success. Though he is no longer teaching, his teachings continue to resonate with her. Additionally, she found her introductory astronomy class captivating, sparking her interest in exploring weather phenomena on other planets.

Reflecting on her transformative journey, Rau credits her stepdad's unwavering encouragement for recognizing her fascination with storms and nurturing her passion for meteorology. His support served as a guiding light, leading her to pursue her interests at UAH. Rau faces the exciting decision of either delving into graduate studies or continuing her dedicated work with the National Weather Service (NWS). As a volunteer, she found herself deeply immersed in the world of weather forecasting and analysis—a valuable experience made possible by UAH's unique advantage of housing the NWS on campus. This remarkable opportunity has fueled her determination to further explore her potential in the field and make a meaningful impact on weather science.

Leffler (23'), a recent graduate of UAH's Atmospheric and Earth Sciences undergraduate program, shares his passion for meteorology that began in Benton, Illinois, where he discovered his fascination with weather. Initially apprehensive about storms, his curiosity grew as he learned more about them, culminating in a desire to study meteorology and understand natural phenomena like tornadoes and hurricanes.

As an undergraduate, Leffler studied Atmospheric and Earth Science with a Meteorology specialization, enjoying impactful classes such as Severe Weather Analysis and Operational Weather Forecasting, which simulates a NWS forecaster's role and applying classroom knowledge to real-world forecasting scenarios.

Having actively participated in severe weather research at UAH, Leffler is transitioning into UAH’s Department of Atmospheric & Earth Sciences graduate school, focusing on tropical cyclone research and understanding boundary layer rolls and circulations in landfalling tropical cyclones.

Both students have actively engaged with the Department of Atmospheric & Earth Sciences student run organizations including the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and Upstorm. They played vital roles, with Rau serving as vice president of AMS, overseeing Weatherfest, and Leffler as vice president of Upstorm, involved in training undergraduates for field exercises and research.

Additionally, they have collaborated on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-funded projects, such as the Propagation, Evolution, and Rotation in Linear Storms (PERiLS) project, dedicated to observing tornadogenesis within squall lines across the Southeast. Their contributions to equipment operation and weather balloon leads have been pivotal in these projects' success.

Both students emphasize the importance of involvement, active class participation, and networking with professors and peers. They firmly believe such connections in the meteorological field offer meaningful opportunities to impact their knowledge in weather forecasting, research, and community outreach. As their inspiring journey continues, Rau and Leffler encourage future meteorologists to follow their passions, enjoy the learning process, and explore diverse opportunities within the atmospheric sciences. Their dedication to raising weather awareness will undoubtedly make them a fantastic asset to this field and the community.