In this video adapted from Storyknife Productions, learn about how Alaska Native pilots use both traditional knowledge and Western science to predict the weather. Hear from Alaska Native pilots, and others in the aviation industry, as they describe the flying culture in Alaska and the challenges of flying in this environment. Learn about the importance of reading the weather and the landscape using nature's signmakers; for example, the shape and orientation of snowdrifts provide information about prevailing winds.
In Alaska's harsh and rapidly changing environment, knowledge about weather is critical. As a matter of survival, Alaska Native peoples have developed a base of traditional knowledge about the weather to determine when it is safe to go hunting or spend time on the water. Through careful observations and direct interaction with the environment, Alaska Native peoples recognized patterns in nature and they passed this knowledge down through the generations through an oral tradition of stories and local lore.
Predicting weather is very difficult because the atmosphere involves the complex interaction of many diverse variables. However, observations about the strength and direction of the wind, the smell and feel of the air, and changes in temperature or cloud cover have repeatedly proven to be reliable indicators of future weather conditions. Animal behavior and atmospheric phenomena (such as sun dogs—a halo of light around the Sun produced by tiny ice crystals in cirrus clouds) can also be indicative of changes in weather.
Meteorologists seek to understand and predict the weather using Western science and technology; their observations are gathered with the help of tools such as Doppler radar, satellites, and weather balloons. These technologies allow meteorologists to gather detailed data about the atmosphere over large areas. Computer models consider variables such as air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, Earth rotation, and absorption or reflection of solar radiation to generate forecasts.
Traditional knowledge about the weather and the tools from Western science each have their strengths and can complement one another. Western scientific tools provide data that can describe weather on a global and regional scale and can provide both short- and long-range forecasts for large areas. Computer models may not be very specific at a local level, but Native knowledge excels at this scale. In Alaska, the general weather forecast can at times preclude flying altogether; however, Native knowledge and observations about local area weather patterns, topography, and environmental conditions provide valuable information to enhance forecasts and make flying possible.
The challenging terrain and harsh, rapidly changing weather contribute to a high rate of accidents in Alaska. In an effort to improve aviation safety in Alaska, the Federal Aviation Administration has implemented the Capstone program to improve situational awareness. The program has successfully decreased accident rates with the installation of new cockpit equipment that displays information about terrain, air traffic, and weather updates.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.