BLACKSBURG, VA (WDBJ) - Hundreds of people measure and observe weather from their backyards every day across our hometowns. This data is extremely important to meteorologists at the National Weather Service (NWS), but they have not been able to use it.
Michael Sporer, NWS Blacksburg
For more than a year now, Virginia Tech Meteorology students Isaiah Moore and Kayleigh Addington have been volunteering their time every week at the National Weather Service in Blacksburg.
Messaging every person with a weather station in the Blacksburg forecasting area.
That ranges from the mountains of West Virginia to Central Virginia and even some counties in North Carolina.
Weather stations measure rainfall totals, wind speeds, dew points and much more. A number of these stations are already a part of the NWS's system, but many of them are not. Data from these stations is public and can be found on websites such as Weather Underground.
For Moore and Addington, communicating with these weather station owners has been frustrating because there is only one way to reach them on Weather Underground.
“We do it through a discussion board,” said Moore. “A lot of people don't even see our comments or anything so they don't even know that we're posting or are in need of data."
So why does the National Weather Service need this data?
“It helps us to put the pieces of the puzzle together,” said Michael Sporer, forecaster at the NWS Blacksburg. “Getting this data from the mesonetworks, it is one thing to be able to see it on an interface like Weather Underground, but it's another thing to use it."
Sporer showed an example last year of the historic flooding in Danville from Tropical Storm Michael. During the event, the NWS only had access to a couple of stations around Danville. Their systems rely on that limited data to put out river flood warnings. With more stations, more accurate forecasts and warnings are possible.
The data gap of weather stations the NWS can use in our area has been a headache to deal with.
“We constantly hear feedback from folks: 'You said it was going to be 40 degrees at my house, but it was only 20, what's up with that?' Well, we didn't know it was 20 degrees at your house because you didn't tell us it was 20 degrees at your house. That's why this kind of data sharing arrangement is so important to us because we don't know what's happening at every point in our area."
Sporer says virtually every NWS office across the country is tackling this same issue.
He's thankful for Moore and Addington's work given how time consuming the process is.
"You start out and you look at the county and you think, 'oh, there's only, you know, five stations in the county,'” said Addington. “You zoom in on one and then there's five more around that and so by the time you get the whole county done, you're looking at thirty or forty stations."
Despite sending out hundreds of messages on discussion boards, they've only heard back from a handful of people, but they are hopeful to connect with more.
If you are a weather station owner and would like to connect your station with the NWS, sign up here.
For more information on this project, email VirginiaTechMesonetProject@gmail.com.
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