When Suzanne Meisel bought her children laptops for Christmas last year, she had one condition: use them for something constructive.
Now, her son Jacob, a 9th-grader at Staples High School, whom many call the Westport Weather Wiz maintains a blog informing Westporters of their local forecast.
Her 10-year-old daughter, Tess, writes a blog about global warming, educating readers on threats to the Earth and how to help.
When the Meisel kids aren't in school, rowing the Saugatuck River or playing their violins, they can be found in their living room, sitting side by side.
The only sound in their cozy den is that click, click, click of the keyboard.
While Jacob might be studying the latest weather models before posting a new forecast, Tess is usually researching threats to natural resources, how to stop global warming and ways to be more sustainable.
"I have always been an aware person about the climate and how it's changing a lot," Tess said of her desire to start the blog. "I've also always had a big heart for penguins and polar bears."
Indeed, a section of her Web site is devoted to the nonprofit organization, Polar Bear International, which works to preserve the world's polar bears and their habitat.
Just as animals inspire Tess, weather inspires Jacob.
"Ever since I was a little kid, I've always enjoyed lightning," Jacob said. "We lived in L.A. for 10 years, where there's not much weather."
When he moved to the Northeast, though, Jacob said he became enthralled with storms.
Both he and Tess went to an energy camp last summer at Penn State University. That's where Jacob learned of the Penn State weather models, which he now uses to formulate his forecasts.
"Normally I'm able to (update my blog) every day," he said. "But if it's stormy, I might update it three times a day."
When he began his blog, it was mostly to report winter weather activity, but his hobby became a habit and his forecasts spanned all seasons.
The winter, though, is when his site gets most of its hits. He doesn't tell too many people about the site but many can find it from a link off the school district's Web page.
"It's not exactly something that will make me the most popular, having a Web site about weather," Jacob said, smiling. "It will be more publicized, though, once it starts snowing."
That's because many looking for school closings can find it on his site.
"I report school closures, delays and snow amounts," he said. "I update it every three hours in a snowstorm."
Aside from the scientific models he can access online, Jacob uses a rain gauge and weather station that keeps track of precipitation, barometric pressure, temperature, moon phases, wind speed, humidity, wind chill and rain rate.
If that doesn't give him enough information during a snow storm, he said there's always the backyard where he can measure the accumulation himself.
To make his forecasts, Jacob said he uses a blend of sources from the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Accuweather, the Penn State models and the Farmer's Almanac.
"I'm seeing signs of a record winter in terms of snowfall," he said. "The main consensus is it will be warm through November but then it will turn cold. The Farmer's Almanac reports a major blizzard in February."
While his mom said he's an optimist for wanting snow, Jacob contends it's also because snow is "extremely hard to predict" because we are on the coast.
"Weston could get six inches and we could get none," he said. "In a half mile you can get discrepancies in snow."
When it comes to making predictions, Jacob said there's been times he's been correct and the national weather reports have been wrong, about rainfall accumulation, for example.
"Everyone knows meteorology is a giant guessing game," Jacob said. "But I feel like I have enough information to make an accurate forecast."
It's something he plans to keep doing throughout high school, in college and as a career.
"I personally would enjoy being a storm chaser," he said. "I love that show but it's on Sunday nights from 10 to 11, which is too late for me to watch."
As for his sister, Tess hopes to be a chemist or an ecologist when she grows up.
In the meantime, she's working on getting her friends to recycle, encouraging people to eat less red meat and keeping her blog updated.
One of her latest posts is about threats posed to the ocean, including pollution and industrial fishing.
"I do every day try to recycle and make my friends aware of recycling," she said, adding that she wants to start an environmental club at Coleytown Middle School. "I think they feel they can't do anything about helping even though the small things do matter."
To Tess, recycling is only part of the solution to improving the environment.
"Recycling is good, but reusing, then recycling is better," she said.
As Jacob and Tess continue to inform and spread awareness, it seems those laptops have helped shape their future — at least according to their current dreams — and that is definitely something mom Suzanne would call constructive.
Editor's Note: Jacob Meisel will be contributing a local weekend weather report to Westport Patch on Fridays. To read more about his blog, click here.
To read more of Tess' thoughts on global warming and the environment, click here.