Science and technology stories relating to humankind’s exploration of the weather are very interesting, and the immersive 2,000-square-foot “Weather Lab” that opened recently at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, in New Mexico, gives visitors an inspiring view of the inextricable relationship between weather and humanity.
The exhibit features several educational and interactive weather pods to educate visitors about the sun, wind, clouds, precipitation, and storms. With artifacts, interactive touchscreens, videos, and nearly 50 text and image panels, visitors can learn about the science and technology behind our understanding of the weather and in computer simulations, they can also launch their hot air balloons in the “Albuquerque Box” and watch them soar over the city.
“I think we’ve surprised a lot of people with the look, feel, and the depth of the exhibition,” said Museum Manager, Paul Garver. “The other thing that’s been surprising is just how much time people spend in here. The Weather Lab is also a place where they’ll learn about the technology of weather forecasting,” says Garver.
In addition to weather forecasting, visitors can change atmospheric elements in virtual simulation pods and experience how those changes impact weather patterns.
The unique design and artistic elements of each pod gives a feel for the weather element housed within. For example, when visitors enter the precipitation pod, the lighting and design creates an illusion of a rain curtain under a cloud.
“The Weather Lab also highlights two weather-related conditions that are important to Albuquerque – but for very different reasons – ‘The Box’ and fire weather,” said Garver, where visitors learn about seasonal fires and how widespread forest fires influence weather patterns.
The “Albuquerque Box” is a set of predictable wind currents that make Albuquerque an ideal place to hold the world’s largest ballooning event every year. At lower elevations in the Rio Grande Valley, where the city sits, winds move South. At higher altitude, winds move North. So, balloon pilots take off from Balloon Fiesta Park, drift into the valley, catch the opposite wind current and float back to land near the place they started.
Moreover, using computer simulations, visitors can also design their hot air balloons to launch into the Albuquerque Box. They can learn how the balloon’s design and weight respond to circulating winds, and they can launch their balloon on the projected flight path and watch it rise and float over the city.
“What you experience on the field is so enchanting, and the museum and the Weather Lab give visitors the chance to explore and participate in the joy that is hot air ballooning,” says Garver.
The Weather Lab is part of the Balloon Museum’s efforts to expand (STEM) science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, and Mayor Richard Berry notes the possibilities for students. “This outstanding achievement is a new resource that adds to Albuquerque’s capacity to develop, support and attract STEM talent. It is another example of what makes Albuquerque such an innovative city,” said Mayor Berry.
Designed and built by University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning, the Weather Lab cost $450,000. Most financial help came from state funds, the city, and from the International Balloon Museum Foundation.
The museum is a 61,000-square-foot high-bay building with a tensile fabric roof and a balloon-like feel and overlooks the 365-acre Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park and the launch field.
The world-class museum has many models and educational exhibits, representing the first balloon journeys in 1783 to the actual balloon gondolas and capsules used by pilots on their record-breaking flights.
Individuals and organizations involved in the conception, construction and completion of the Weather Lab, include Ideum, New Mexico Highlands University, University of New Mexico Fab Lab instructors and students, Design Group, Facility Build, General Contractor, Simone Seagle and the Balloon Museum Foundation and Board of Trustees.
Museum address: 9201 Balloon Museum NE, just west of Jefferson and north of Alameda.