An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Olivia W. '22

Why do people cry from joy? I remember posing that question to my mom when I was six. She explained to me that sometimes, a person experiences so much and so strong of a sense of joy that the only way they can express it is through tears. I’ve since wondered whether I’d experience something that powerful. I figured it’d be later in life when I was older (when you’re six, everything happens when you’re older, so it only made sense), and life-changingly big.

This summer, my partner Zelia and I have been working on the SNOWPACK project, with the overall end goal of having SNOWPACK be a tool for the Northwest Avalanche Center’s forecasters to supplement their current forecasting methods. SNOWPACK is a snow and land-surface model that, when given meteorological data in the right format, outputs detailed information on the layers of the snowpack. Our specific project was running SNOWPACK on the outputs from another model, the Weather and Research Forecasting Model (WRF), run by the UW forecasting group. Personally, I’ve been working with the SNOWPACK model itself by troubleshooting, experimenting with, and modeling the example files; creating configuration input files with another SNOWPACK program; and finally, troubleshooting the process of using the files Zelia created from slices of WRF data as input for SNOWPACK.

Today, on this third-to-last-day of LSRI, I was midway through drafting a blog post idea (“there’s nothing quite like bringing childhood dreams of villainous power to life by attempting to melt Antarctica with science”) when it was time for the one-last-hurrah meeting Dr. Town and I scheduled. We clarified why I couldn’t melt Antarctica and why I did manage to melt a Swiss weather station, and I explained the errors and issues I’ve been encountering forcing SNOWPACK with Zelia’s WRF file. After some back and forth, Dr. Town asked about the comment key in the header, which wasn’t present in the SNOWPACK example files he had pulled up. I shrugged; the input file documentation allowed for a comment key, and I’d already checked it didn’t interfere with SNOWPACK by running a version of the file with the line commented out. “I can try taking it out completely, though,” I said. I deleted the line, moved to Command Prompt (CMD), ran SNOWPACK with the changed file. 

After it ran, my interest piqued. A quick look showed that the text in CMD had changed. So, I searched for the new errors that were bound to pop up in the old ones’ place. It took a full 5 seconds of scanning before I saw the final few lines of output. The recognizable horizontal bar of “===========” and the message: “FINISHED running SLF RESEARCH Snowpack Model on Wed Jul 15 11:43:15 2020”.

It’s hard to explain why we care about the things we do, and we often suppress our emotional responses to what’s closest to our hearts. Suppression was my first instinct. From the outside, that run was a small thing. But my brain took one look at me and went, “yeah, not today.”

There was a sunburst in my chest. For the first time in my life, I choked and laughed out overjoyed tears. In hindsight, those tears seem overdramatic and feel, honestly, a bit embarrassing. It’s still only a small step forward in a project larger than me, a partial success still laden with confusion and the unknown. Yet that’s what we’re here for, the unknown, the confusion, the possibility. And so I cried, and the taste of the salt in my tears rang of both the invisible salty sweat of our hard work and this new salted tingle of imperfect progress, the joy of the process, our own definition of success.