On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes meteorologist Chester Lampkin to the show on Monday, December 14 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
From the time he was a little kid, Chester Lampkin loved weather. He used to pretend to be delivering the weather on television, even if no one was listening.
These days tens of thousands of people watch his forecasts on WUSA 9. But before he got that cool job, he had to learn the science behind the weather — why temperatures rise and fall, why it’s rainy or dry and how climate change is hurting the Earth.
We’re going to hear from Chester Lampkin about everything from sunny days to natural disasters — and how kids can better understand what a weather forecast means. It’s about as close as we can come to predicting the future!
We also welcome the students of The Woods Academy in Bethesda, our school of the week. We’re looking forward to their questions, and yours too — if you’re a kid!
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Chester Lampkin Meteorologist, WUSA 9; @chesterlampkin
KOJO NNAMDIUh-oh. Uh-oh, sounds like some serious weather, not unlike what we're having today. Our guest today loves a good storm. Chester Lampkin is a meteorologist who delivers forecasts for the Washington area on WUSA9. He studies the weather every day to make sure we can be prepared, whether it's going to be cold, hot, windy, rainy or snowy. And he's here today to talk about meteorology. That's the study of the atmosphere and the many things meteorologists do. It turns out that not all the things they do are on TV.
KOJO NNAMDIAlso joining us today are students of the Woods Academy in Bethesda, Maryland. We welcome their questions, and your questions, too, if you're a kid. Adults, you're invited to listen, but on Kojo for Kids, it's kid callers only. Chester Lampkin, welcome to the program.
CHESTER LAMPKINAll right. Thanks a lot, Kojo. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.
NNAMDIThanks. I was watching you just last night. We'll get to the weather in a minute, but first, tell us a little bit about you, when you were a kid. Where were you born, where did you grow up?
LAMPKINWell, it's a pretty straightforward story for me. I've always loved weather, and I grew up in a very active weather place of the Midwest. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. I've lived there for much of my life, including all the way through college. That's where I obtained my degree from St. Louis University, my meteorology degree. So, I'm a proud Billiken, if there are any Billikens out there listening.
LAMPKINAnd I started my career shortly thereafter, moved to Colorado. I lived in Central Missouri out near the capitol city of Jefferson City, and I also lived in El Paso, Texas and New Zealand for a little while. And, you know, I kind of ended up here on the east coast over the last year.
NNAMDIDo you have siblings? What did you like to do as a kid?
LAMPKINYeah, I do. And it's so interesting that we have such a -- we're a varied family, if you will. I have a brother and a sister. I'm the oldest of us three. I also have some half-siblings that live in the Philippines. And, you know, that's a whole other of my personal life story, but we all do different things. My brother works for a big company, I won't name them. And he does logistics-type work. And my sister works for the Department of Defense, and she actually lived in the D.C. area for a couple of years. She now lives in Hawaii, lucky her.
NNAMDIWow. You knew you wanted to be a meteorologist from the time you were very young. What have you always loved about the weather, and what exactly is a meteorologist?
LAMPKINWell, a meteorologist is a person who studies the weather. I mean, that's the basic definition, but meteorology is such a vast field. There's so many things you can do, and that's what I love about it. And I've always loved it, you know, the first part of your question, as a child. I loved it because I was sort of afraid of a lot of the things that came with the weather. Again, I grew up in St. Louis. It's not tornado alley, but it's pretty close. We're just a couple hundred miles away, and we got our fair share of tornadoes.
LAMPKINKojo, I was deathly afraid of tornadoes and lightning and that sort of weather, as a kid. But, you know, it's so interesting, because I actually ended up, you know, wanting to know more about it because of that fear, which is not always the case. You know, there's other things I'm scared of. I'm afraid of drowning, but it doesn't make me want to go become a deep sea diver or anything like that. But the weather just fascinated me, and I loved a big snowstorm, I loved the tornadoes. You know, I loved all that kind of weather, and I still have that passion in me today. I'm very lucky to be able to do that.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding you spent way too much time watching the Weather Channel, but I hear you also used to deliver pretend forecasts when you were a kid, just as if you were on TV. Who was your audience then, and would you just make the weather up?
LAMPKINWell, unfortunately for my brother and sister, they were often the audience, whether they wanted to be or not. But, a lot of times, it was just me pretending to talk into a radio. You know, back then we had, you know, we had cassette tapes. So ,I would record myself, you know, talking as if I were on the radio. You know, I never -- I mean, I didn't dream that I'd ever be on the radio right now, and here I am talking to you.
LAMPKINBut, you know, as a kid that's what I did. I pretended I was on the radio. I would give weather forecasts and, you know, I did news breaks, because I liked watching a lot of local news. That's where I would get all my weather information because, you know, today we have the internet. We have smart phones. We didn't have any of that. Our weather information came from the newspaper. It came from local news and the Weather Channel. That was the only way to get weather, you know, almost instantly. And you had to wait, you know, for the Local on the 8s on the Weather Channel, or whatever it was.
LAMPKINBut, yeah, as a kid, that's how I did it. You know, I just went and pretended I was -- I was a shy kid, too, but I pretended I was on the radio. I was pretending I was on TV, and I kind of modeled myself after the TV meteorologists that I grew up watching, and some of the folks that I hears on radio back in the eighties and nineties.
NNAMDIWell, I've got to tell you, a lot of kids are clearly interested in weather, so I'm going to cut myself off for now because I'm an adult, and this is really for kids. So, let's start with eight-year-old Ethan in Washington, D.C. Ethan, it's your turn. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ETHANHi. My name is Ethan. I'm from D.C., and I have two questions. The first one is: Who came up with the term EF4 tornadoes?
LAMPKINOkay. Great question. So, EF4 tornadoes is from a scale of tornadoes. There's a scale of tornadoes called the Enhanced Fujita scale. And Fujita is -- the Fujita scale, the original Fujita scale was just called the Fujita scale, the F scale. And then it was updated later to enhance because of the new data that we had obtained from all the tornadoes that have hit across the country.
LAMPKINThe original Fujita scale was named after Ted Fujita, who is this passionate meteorologist who grew up in Japan and came to the States after the Second World War and studied meteorology. He was a brilliant guy. Most meteorologists know about this gentleman, and he studied severe weather. And he came up with this scale of tornado damage that was named the Fujita scale. So, now we have the Enhanced Fujita scale. We took his scale, which was a great scale, and we made it a little bit better. So that's a great question, Ethan. What was your second question?
NNAMDIWell, Ethan has called in on this broadcast before, but couldn't get on. That's why he gets to ask a second question. Ethan, go ahead, please.
ETHANMy second question is: What's the worst storm ever, like, just like the lightning and rain?
LAMPKINYou know, that's a great question. I hate to say it, be I actually think it's kind of subjective. I think it depends on what you don't like. So, for some people, they don't mind a bad lightning storm, but they may hate snow. And I know there's a lot of grownups who do. Even some kids. Sometimes I talk to kids that don't like snow, and I get it.
LAMPKINSo, the worst storm may be something different for you, Ethan. And maybe you don't like wind. Well, you're going to hate hurricanes, because they have lots of wind, for hours and hours. So, that could be the worst storm. Or maybe for Kojo, maybe Kojo doesn't really like lightning storms, and I get that, too. I used to be really afraid of them, and I still kind of am. They're dangerous.
LAMPKINBut I think -- overall, in meteorology, I think most meteorologists agree the most destructive, probably the worst storms are hurricanes or tropical cyclones. They're all the same thing. They're all big areas of low pressure that come from the tropics, but hurricanes, tropical cyclones, typhoons, whatever it's named across the world, those tend to be the worst and most devastating storms and the ones that we really -- we are fascinated by, but also wish would just not damage anything.
NNAMDIEthan, thank you very much for your call. Chester, what's the worst storm you personally had to cover, and did you have to be out in it to cover it?
LAMPKINYeah, that's a great question. I have been in a couple events of thunder snow, which I think a lot of people aren't familiar with. And, you know, I'm assuming it doesn't happen too often here in D.C., either, but it does happen, where you have a storm that has so much energy, it's kind of convective in nature, we call it. And convection is sort of a fancy term for a thunderstorm. It's a transfer of energy, transfer of heat.
LAMPKINBut I've been in a couple snowstorms where there was lightning. And that is the most eerie thing, when you're in a snowstorm -- and, Kojo, you know this.
LAMPKINYou go out in a snowstorm -- let's say you're outside in a snowstorm, and it's quiet. Snow kind of muffles all the sound out there. You know, you don't hear quite as much. Setting the scene, here. And then you hear this big crack of thunder, and it is incredibly jarring to hear that in a snowstorm. And I think that would probably be the worst I've ever been in. And I've covered a lot of storms. I covered some tornadoes, etcetera, etcetera, a couple tropical cyclones, but that would be the worst.
NNAMDIHere's seven-year-old Constantine at the Woods Academy. Constantine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CONSTANTINEHi. My name is Constantine from second grade at the Woods Academy. My question is: How does the moon affect waves?
LAMPKINThat's a great question, Constantine. Okay. So, should out to your school there, and we appreciate you guys tuning in today. Constantine, so the moon has a pull of gravity, just like everything. All things in the universe has gravity. Even the smallest things has a pull of gravity, has this force. And I can only tell you that they all exist. I can't tell you what causes that, because that's beyond my science. It's beyond meteorology.
LAMPKINBut the moon has gravity, and it has a force, and it pulls on the ocean, the water on Earth. And that's what causes our tides. So, the gravity from the moon actually pulls the ocean up and down on Earth, which is incredible to think about, considering how far away it is from us. But that's what causes parts of the ocean to sort of bubble up, in a sense. So, it rises on two sides of the Earth, because of the gravity pull of the moon.
LAMPKINAnd then the result of that is the other two sides, where it's not being pulled quite as strongly, the oceans actually will go down just a little bit. So, that's why we have the tide. And that's the basic answer, and it's a complicated and amazing thing, because we do get impacted by it here in the D.C. area because, you know, we've got the Potomac, which is a tidal down through downtown D.C., which is fantastic.
NNAMDIConstantine, thank you for your call. Six-year-old George from the Woods Academy writes: What causes a tsunami? How high were the biggest recorded waves?
LAMPKINThat's a great question. I'll be honest with you. I don't know what the highest recorded waves are. That's something I'd have to look up. It's a great question. But, certainly, several feet. Perhaps, you know, dozens of feet. I will say this, Tsunamis are actually not a meteorological event. They're actually caused by earthquakes and/or volcanic eruptions. But they're still something that we are fascinated by in meteorology.
LAMPKINIt doesn't matter what the weather is, you can get a tsunami. Again, it's related to what happens with an earthquake. An earthquake and volcano, those are the main causes for tsunamis, and you can get an earthquake on a sunny day or a stormy day. And you can get earthquakes almost anywhere in the world. So, it's not really weather related, but it is something that a lot of us weather folks, especially us TV weather folks have to deal with working in the media business.
NNAMDIThank you very much for that question. Here is 11-year-old Celine in Washington, D.C. Celine, it's your turn. Hi, Celine, are you there?
NNAMDIGo right ahead.
CELINEI'm in sixth grade at Woods Academy Middle School. And the question I have is: What sources or equipment do you use to prepare for your forecasts?
NNAMDIOh, what sources and equipment do you use to prepare for your forecasts? How much time do you have, Celine? (laugh)
LAMPKIN(laugh) I'll try to keep it short. I'll give the short version. Celine, thanks for your question. So, we have a lot of different sources. In fact, as I'm talking to you right now, I'm sitting in front of my computer, and I have a web page up that has probably six or seven tabs of weather data. But the main weather information we get, a lot of it comes from our own National Weather Service. And I have to give them all the props in the world.
LAMPKINThe National Weather Service is part of the government, the Department of Commerce. And they have weather forecast centers all over the country, and they're part of NOAA, which is based here in Washington, D.C. area. And that's where a lot of brilliant and fantastic scientists work, and they do great work every day. So, you know, I cannot speak more highly of the folks who work there.
LAMPKINSo, we get a lot of our information from them. That includes the current weather data from weather sensors all across the country, the radar, the satellite data comes from NOAA and from NASA. And we also get information from their computer model data. There is a set of models that help us predict what the weather is going to be. And we have a set of models from the National Weather Service. It's called the GFS. That's the main American model.
LAMPKINWe also get weather data from other parts of the world. We get weather data from Europe, from Japan, from India, from South Africa. I mean, you now, New Zealand, where I used to work. There are so many meteorological organizations across the world, and they all work with the World Meteorological Association which is based in Europe to help disseminate or give out data so that meteorologists all over the world can work and make forecasts so we can tell you whether it's going to rain or snow where you live, Celine. I mean, that's basically what it comes down to. And that's the short answer, there.
NNAMDICeline, thank you very much for your call. We heard from 10-year-old Makenna of the Woods Academy who asked a really important question: Is it too early to ask about the weather for Christmas? It has not snowed on Christmas that I can remember. (laugh)
LAMPKIN(laugh) That's a great question. I believe -- and, you know, this is just going from memory, so I'm not looking at anything or any computer model or anything. I believe the chance of seeing snow on the ground around Christmastime in D.C. is only 10 to 15 percent. That means if you were to, you know, flip a coin 10 times, you know, (laugh) and heads was your snow, well, nine of those times you would get tails. So, it's just really hard for us to see snow on Christmas. January and February tend to be snowier months for D.C.
LAMPKINWith that said, I'm kind of peeking, here, ahead to Christmas. I personally think it might be too warm for us to see snow on Christmas. So, it is a little too soon, but just based on what I am seeing, some of the weather data that goes out in a couple weeks, it's not looking good, and I'm really sorry. It'd be nice to have a white Christmas. I haven't seen one in years, either. And I remember, I mean, last winter, we barely got any snow in the D.C. area.
LAMPKINNot much of a snow winter.
NNAMDIAnd Adan in grade five at the Woods Academy asked: Do people get mad at you if your prediction is different from the weather that we actually get? I bet it happens with snow all of the time. (laugh)
LAMPKINYes. Adan, you are 100 percent correct. And, honestly, most people are okay. Most people are nice. Most people understand that meteorology is a complicated science. It is difficult to predict the future in any field, okay. There are very few fields where you can actually predict the future. You can prepare but predicting the actual outcome is a difficult thing to do.
LAMPKINAnd I think, in meteorology, we do a great job. You can get a really good weather forecast five to 10 days out. You may not know all the details, but you get a good forecast. Like, the storm that's coming on Wednesday, we've known about it for a few days now. And so, you know, people are already asking us -- they've been asking us about the snow since, you know, Saturday and Sunday.
LAMPKINSo, Adan, yes. I've had people get upset. The worst was I actually had someone get really mad that I was on television interrupting a program because I was talking about a tornado that was coming down to a city. This was in Illinois, so years ago. And people were really upset. I got a lot of mean messages that day. And it's tough. You know, it hurts our feelings, but at the same time, we're professionals, and we know that you're not going to make everybody happy.
LAMPKINWhether your forecast is, you know, perfect or not, you just do your best every day. But, yes, we've had a lot of people come to us who can be mean. You know, sometimes grownup can be mean but most people, including kids, are usually really, really great about it.
NNAMDIWell, we've got questions from two siblings, either-year-old Charlie and six-year-old Andy. Who wants to go first?
ANDYI want to go first.
NNAMDIAnd you are?
NNAMDIGo right ahead, Andy.
ANDYI want to know if it's true or not that when lightning strikes, it's hotter than the sun.
LAMPKINThat is true, from what I've read, yes. So, I don't know off the top of my head the exact temperature of the surface of the sun, and we say when it's hotter than the sun. So, lightning can be as hot as, I believe, 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is really, really super hot, which is hotter than the surface of the sun.
LAMPKINHowever, I believe the inside of the sun -- and, again, this is beyond my science because, you know, I'm a meteorologist, and I just study what happens on Earth, here in our atmosphere, where we live. But I believe the sun -- inside the sun, the core is much, much hotter where the sun actually burns its fuel. But, yes, 10,000 degrees, for lightning, is really hot, and that is hotter than the surface of the sun.
LAMPKINEither way, though, you don't want to be hit by lightning, and you don't want to be on the surface of the sun. Those are both bad places to be, so, you know, make sure when you hear lightning, thunder roars, go indoors. That's what we say in meteorology. Just stay away from thunderstorms.
NNAMDINow, for Andy's eight-year-old brother, Charlie. Charlie, it's your turn.
CHARLIEI want to know, well, what's a dust devil?
LAMPKINOh, great question. So, a dust devil. it looks like a tornado, but it's not made the same way. So, what happens is you can get what we call uneven heating on the ground. This happens in places where there's a lot of dirt. So, just imagine a field, like a farm, that has a lot of dirt, and there's no plants in that dirt. It's just dirt, okay. And you get a really hot day or a really sunny day.
LAMPKINThe sun is heating up that dirt. It's heating up the ground, and it creates a warm bubble, sort of, on the ground. But above it, it's a little bit cooler. And in shaded spots, under a tree, it's a little bit cooler. Well, that can create a little bit of wind. So, you can get a little bit of wind moving around in a large area of dirt or even in the desert, and that wind can start to swirl because of many other forces in the atmosphere.
LAMPKINAnd, basically, it's a temperature difference. It's like the atmosphere -- Mother Nature likes it when everyone has the same temperature. So, when you have a little bit of heat and you have a little cool spot, the air starts to move, and that can create a swirl. And that sometimes can pick up dirt and make a little miniature tornado, is what it looks like. And that is a dust devil.
LAMPKINSo, dust devils are made of dust and or dirt, and they come from usually a sunny day -- not always, but usually a sunny day -- where you warm up the ground. And you can heat up the ground and you can make a little wind, and you get a little dust devil. They're not created the same way as a tornado. Tornadoes are formed by wind, but they're formed by, you know, different kinds of air masses or big bubbles of air coming together, and they come from thunderstorms. You have to have a thunderstorm or something like it for a tornado. Great questions, Charlie and Andy.
NNAMDIThanks Charlie and Andy. Eight-year-old Asha from the Woods Academy says: Happy Holidays, and what is the difference between weather and climate?
LAMPKINOh, this is a great question, Asha. And so, I will begin by saying, again, I am a meteorologist, a person who studies the weather, but I know a little bit, just a little tiny bit about climate. But weather is short-term, so weather is what happens in the next few minutes, what happens the next hour or five days or maybe as much as 10 days. And climate is long-term.
LAMPKINSo, usually, someone who's studying climate -- a climatologist, as they're called, someone who studies the climate will study maybe what happens two weeks or a month or six months or maybe a year. And for some, some climatologists will study what happens a hundred years from now, or what happened in the past, a hundred years ago.
LAMPKINSo, climate is what the weather has been over a long period of time and what it can be. And weather is more like what's happening right now. So, the weather that happens right now or in the next few hours, the next few days. So, that's the difference between weather and climate.
NNAMDIAnd we only have less than a minute left, but five-year-old Nora wants to get her question in. Go ahead, please, Nora.
NORABefore I ask my question, it's Anora with an A.
LAMPKINOh, Nora with an A, got it.
NNAMDIOh, Nora with an A, got it. Anora, Anora. Got you.
NORAMy question is: How do scientists predict when it will snow? Because I really want it to snow this year.
NNAMDIYou only have about 30 seconds left.
LAMPKINI'll keep it quick. Okay. So, we take all of that model data I talked about earlier in the show, all that computer model data. We look at what's happening now and what the weather pattern usually happens around here, and that's how we predict whether it's going to snow. The bottom line is, it's hard to predict it, but we try our best. I do think we're going to see a little bit of snow on Wednesday, so maybe you'll get your wish, Anora.
NNAMDIChester Lampkin is a meteorologist at WASU9. Thank you so much for joining us. Kojo for Kids was produced by Lauren Markoe, and our conversation on the coronavirus vaccine was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, the pandemic has hurt many people's finances, putting millions out of work and leaving many others with uncertainty about the future.
NNAMDIWhatever your situation, year's end is a good time to take stock of your finances, and we've got experts to help. Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post and Sandy Block of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. That all starts at noon, tomorrow. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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