Hobby of one enlightens 800

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amanda Mills
  • Public Affairs
What started as a hobby for one Vance Air Force Base NCO has become an educational and entertainment tool for more than 800 people to date.
Staff Sgt. Aaron Wesson, 71st Operations Support Squadron, began the Web site, www.wxchat.com, in July 2002 as a place for people interested in weather to learn more about the topic and chat with those who share the interest.
"The favorite thing on the site seems to be our Wx School," said the weather NCO in charge of airfield services. "We offer online Meteorology 101, 102 and 103 classes, where members can learn how to forecast and analyze the weather. We can't offer an actual certificate, but it lights up people's lives to have this knowledge."
Registration is free and open to anyone. So far, wxchat.com's members range in age from 14 to older than 60.
Sergeant Wesson never imagined how the site would grow.
"I thought, 'If I get 100 members, then rock on,'" said the Caddo Mills, Texas, native. "Then I just watched it grow from 50 to 100 and on."
Sergeant Wesson wasn't always so successful, he said. When he first began, Paul Wilkerson, 71st OSS weather technician and wxchat.com administrator, helped him form some ideas, but they bombed. Soon Sergeant Wesson and Mr. Wilkerson researched how to make Web sites successful.
"The original site was called TheStormCellar.com," Mr. Wilkerson said. "When that didn't do well, we had to think of other names the general public would likely search for when trying to find information about weather."
Then wxchat.com, "Let's Talk Weather," was born. Along with the meteorology classes, the site includes a weather glossary, weather tools, chat rooms, weather maps, chat forums, weather competitions and more.
The chat rooms are family-oriented with language filters, and in Meteorology 101 Forum, people can get answers to their weather questions from Sergeant Wesson and other military and national weather service meteorologists. The competitions also vary from seasonal competitions with prizes to a daily weather forecast contest for bragging rights.
"Many members join the site for our contests," said Master Sgt. Russell Black, 71st OSS weather operations flight chief and wxchat.com public relations. "We are the first and only Web site to offer Virtual Tornado Chase and Virtual Hurricane Hunt contests. There's nothing better than some healthy competition to hone your skills."
Currently, the site also includes tropical storm path maps that update themselves every 15 minutes, Sergeant Wesson said.
"The daily study of weather is, if nothing else, certainly interesting," said California wxchat.com member Richard583. "On one hand, it's always changing, and never exactly the same. And on the other, the familiar things that reoccur are also satisfying. WxChat.com provides an interesting forum and setting for anyone interested in the weather, from full scale meteorologist to simple weather enthusiast, to post a thought or open a topic of discussion, and more often than not, be able to discuss what they've posted with others also interested."
Unfortunately, running the weather site with its detailed maps is not free for the webmaster. Thankfully, Sergeant Wesson has been blessed with monetary, prize and software donations from sponsors as well as dedicated members.
"We also just became the fifth site to be a HAMweather.com affiliate," Sergeant Wesson said. The site provides Sergeant Wesson the software he needs to take information from the National Weather Service and convert it into his maps.
Although Sergeant Wesson is pleased and grateful for his success, he still has one desire.
"My goal is for (Oklahoma Channel 9 meteorologist) Gary England to join the site," Sergeant Wesson said.