When she was young, Libby Orr said she remembers watching her local weatherperson share the upcoming forecasts and being interested in how the weather could change at a moment’s notice. As she got older, her interest in tracking storms continued – and when it was time to choose a college degree Orr knew it would be related to weather.
Orr, who grew up in southeast Missouri, toured three colleges, settling on the University of Missouri as she said it gave her the best opportunity to pursue her interest areas. Orr chose the environmental sciences degree program, with an emphasis in atmospheric sciences.
“I honestly can’t explain it, but I just always had an interest in the weather,” Orr said. “I would find myself tracking the radar to see what was going on where. In high school, I figured out that I could become a meteorologist, and I felt like Mizzou would be the best place for me to do just that. It seemed like by going there I was going to give myself the best opportunity to find the career that was just right for me.”
While in the environmental sciences degree program Orr has not only increased her knowledge related to meteorology through her coursework, but also through research opportunities and her involvement in the Mizzou Meteorology Club.
“The meteorology faculty is a bit of a smaller group, but there is such a sense of community because of the hard work they do,” Orr said. “It’s such a fun program to be a part of. Plus, we’re able to build great networks because everyone works so closely together.”
Orr serves as the Chi Epsilon Pi Chair for the Mizzou Meteorology Club, where she helps run a tutoring service for undergraduate students in meteorology. Chi Epsilon Pi is an honor society open to juniors and seniors, and the members also take part in various community service activities. The group helps undergraduate students with their coursework and suggests potential electives that would be beneficial for the students’ studies.
“I really enjoy being a part of the Mizzou Meteorology Club,” Orr said. “One of the best parts is being able to connect with our alumni. We invite many of them back to speak about what they do, so we get to hear from individuals at the National Weather Service, emergency managers and live broadcasters. It’s such a broad spectrum and it’s great to have those connections.”
Orr has also spent time researching a potential gravity wave event with Pat Market, director of the School of Natural Resources. The event took place less than five years ago, and while Orr said gravity waves aren’t necessarily rare, they are incredibly difficult to forecast or predict.
“Gravity waves are waves in the atmosphere and when they propagate through a storm system, they can make that part of the storm more severe,” Orr said. “We know that something forces them to occur, and our main goal with this project was to determine whether or not the waves actually occurred in this specific event. To do that, we are examining both modeled and observed data, and how the waves affected the storm if they did actually occur.”
In addition to her research and club involvement, Orr has taken on a mentor role with the MU Campus Weather Forecast. A requirement of one of the upper-level atmospheric sciences courses, students are asked to craft their own forecast for the MU campus. It’s a class that Orr said she enjoyed – and one that helped grow her passion for forecasting.
“That course has been a huge part of what’s helped me fall in love with meteorology,” Orr said. “It’s now really fun to work with the students as they prepare forecasts for the entire campus.”
Orr said she enjoys the research side of meteorology more than the broadcast side. Mizzou has helped show her how many career opportunities there are related to meteorology as well.
“I really only knew that an individual could work on television or the National Weather Service (NWS),” Orr said. “During my time here, I found out about all of the opportunities within meteorology. It’s really great.”
After Orr receives her environmental sciences degree in May, she will head to the University of Wisconsin to further her education as a graduate student. She will be spending time studying and researching the Jetstream. Orr said that depending on how graduate school goes, she may continue her education with the goal of eventually becoming a professor. She’s also open to working with the NWS or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“The research that I was able to complete as an undergraduate student put me in such a good place as I began applying for graduate school,” Orr said. “Being able to say that I’ve already done my own research was huge. Plus, the connections I made through the program set me up for success. I knew I could go to any of my professors and they would help me with any question I had.”