NORMAN — Daphne Thompson can have her feet on the earth and yet be looking up at it all at once.
That's because she's standing in the atrium of the National Weather Center, looking up at the Science on a Sphere, a 6-foot-diameter hollow fiberglass sphere that most of the time looks like the view of the earth from space.
The image on the suspended ball is a composite of four carefully synchronized images from separate projectors spaced around the globe like geosynchronous satellites.
One of the popular features of the sphere is that it shows a month of weather in motion, and it only takes a matter of minutes.
Thompson is Meteorologist/Educational Outreach and Media Relations Coordinator at the National Weather Center. Her responsibilities include leading all school tours, coordinating the other tours there and assisting with media. The sphere is a popular stop and likely will be once again during the annual National Weather Festival, an educational event open to the public Nov. 3 at the National Weather Center.
“The Science on a Sphere is a great way to show how weather moves globally,” Thompson said. “So many people are used to seeing weather move onto the West coast and then move off the East coast. Many people don't think about where it comes from and where it goes. Using a one-month satellite loop, it is possible to see storms developing and moving around different continents.
“Everyone has a TV and has seen images on a flat surface, but most people have not seen a spherical image. They get the chance to walk around it and see the earth from different views.”
Even though Thompson has seen it time and again in recent years, the weather scenario differs because it updates every 30 minutes.
As weather patterns change and shift, she might point out the progression of a strong storm system across the United States or a hurricane or typhoon.
And sometimes, she'll go to the sphere when there's no tour to be led. Instead she'll go look up at the earth as it hangs from three steel cables that are attached to railings on high floors overlooking the atrium.
At times, Thompson is watching for a specific weather system.
“Not only is it interesting to watch convective waves come off Africa and turn into U.S.-bound hurricanes,” Thompson said, “but I have also read in the news about a super typhoon, and then gone to work and looked for it on the sphere.”
Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office, is used to looking at radar images, but continues to be amazed at the worldwide weather perspective on the sphere.
“Even though I walk by it every day, I still find myself stopping and watching it,” Smith said. “It's such a cool way to visualize how the weather moves around the planet.”
David L. Andra, meteorologist in charge in the Norman Forecast Office, also said Science on a Sphere is certainly a focal point within the Weather Center.
“Since our office focuses on the local area, it's interesting to step back and see what happened with a storm system as it left Oklahoma on its way to the east coast and points beyond,” Andra said.
Science on a Sphere can be found at museums and different locations not only throughout the United States but in Brazil, Denmark, France and at other sites internationally, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Thompson has numerous data sets for the sphere and she also has many images she created. At times the sphere is used as a rotating billboard to make building announcements. She has even put engagement photos on the sphere when couples use the atrium for wedding receptions.
“There are many interesting things to see at the NWC,” Thompson said, “but many enjoy the sphere.
“I have heard people numerous times comment that they wish they had their own sphere.”