Build a Better Weather Network? New York Takes the Dare

Steve Miller

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Original story: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/build-weather-network-york-takes-dare-36344237

Counting every raindrop or measuring every gust of wind is impossible, but New York is getting closer with a uniquely extensive statewide system of automated weather stations that should paint a dramatically clearer picture of developing storms.

Described as the new "gold standard" of automated systems, the long-planned network of 125 weather stations stretching from the shores of Lake Erie to the tip of Long Island is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Fourteen stations are already transmitting temperature, pressure and other data every five minutes. When all the stations are operating, forecasters, emergency officials and ordinary weather wonks will be able to get a fine-grained look — a million data points a day — that will hopefully lead to better predictions.

"That's the problem with the current network. There are serious gaps and so you can't see enough of the weather as it's evolving," said Chris Thorncroft, chairman of the University at Albany's atmospheric and environmental sciences department.

Thorncroft is helping lead the development of the New York State Mesonet, which is being funded with a $23.6 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The new system will augment the 27 stations now used by federal forecasters.

People in New York will never be more than 25 miles from a station. The new system will also take in types of data that the current stations do not, such as soil temperature and moisture, and solar radiation. Each site even transmits pictures every five minutes.

Select data from the working stations is already being posted to the Web.

Slightly more than half the states have some kind of network of stations augmenting those the federal government relies on. But the dense and sophisticated network being built in New York will surpass the sophistication of the current "gold standard" system in Oklahoma, according to Curtis Marshall, the National Mesonet program manager.

Oklahoma Mesonet manager Chris Fiebrich said that state's 120-station network, which dates to the early '90s, provided crucial information for public safety officials and meteorologists last year, the wettest in Oklahoma's history.

"Every season, at least, the Mesonet proves its value in just recording incredibly extreme weather," Fiebrich said.

Discussions about a New York Mesonet began in earnest after the Catskills were deluged by the remnants of Hurricane Irene in 2011, Thorncroft said. Record-setting rain had fallen in areas without a gauge, leading to delayed information, he said. A year later, Superstorm Sandy sent a surge into the New York City area and killed 53 people in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been promoting the weather detection system since 2014, though not always in a welcoming way. The governor mentioned the coming forecast improvements that November as the Buffalo area dug out from a jaw-dropping 7 feet of snow. His claim that the weather service was "off" in its own snow forecast turned out to be fighting words to meteorologists who had spent days warning about a major storm.

Actually, the National Weather Service will take the data into their own system and use it for their own forecasts. Raymond O'Keefe, meteorologist-in-charge at the service's Albany bureau, said forecasters have already used data from the existing stations to check on whether local ground was frozen before a recent soaking rain as a way to forecast runoff. The attraction to O'Keefe is simple: more data going into models, better data coming out.

"Better observations, better predictions, better forecasts, better warnings," he said.

Utilities and other businesses wanting the data sent to them will pay a fee.

New York's Mesonet is temporarily housed in a sub-basement at the University at Albany until newer space is ready elsewhere around the campus. The automated stations will look pretty much the same, with 30-foot metal towers topped by wind sensors. Most are being built in open fields, though five New York City stations will be on rooftops. Some of the stations, mostly in the Adirondack Mountains and the adjacent Tug Hill Plateau, will measure snowfall.

Significantly, 17 stations will be able to measure conditions in the atmosphere miles above, a job done now on a much more limited basis now by weather balloons. Marshall, at the National Weather Service, said such "vertical profiling" is done in some other areas, but not in the systematic way New York is deploying them.

Thorncoft called the array of profilers a "game changer," since they will provide much more real-time information about three-dimensional aspects of the atmosphere.

"Knowing what's happening now will allow you to say something intelligent about the next few hours," he said.
 

calvinkaskey

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http://thevane.gawker.com/the-national-weather-service-couldnt-send-out-tornado-w-1580370776

Just one instance the NWS in New York has failed. I know of two others that were epic fails also. That is why the governor said we needed this. He specifically mentioned the Buffalo area dumping Nov 17-19th 2014. That is not one of the two instances that I have seen though it might be because of different real complaints.

Will the people looking at the profile information be able to issue tornado warnings, with the NWS be able to use the info?
 
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rdale

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Calvin - I'm sorry, but you're full of crap now... That example was not a fail by the NWS in New York. The entire NWS infrastructure was impacted. Those who follow social media still got the warning, and media still received it in NWSChat.

The governor said you needed that system because he jumped to conclusion and said the NWS missed the big snowstorm. That also was crap, because it was well forecast. He ignored the forecasts. You're saying the NWS was at fault for that?

And what does your question mean? Nobody can legally issue "tornado warnings" except NWS. This doesn't change that.
 

calvinkaskey

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The NWS should have found ways around it and the article doesn't say it did, although I should have read the article more closely, just like you should have read my message more closely as I didn't say there was a NWS error with the Buffalo storm. On one occasion I called the NWS and asked why they didn't issue any snow advisories for the area when we had at least 4 inches of snow already and it was showing up on the radar. It is probably hard to know where lake effect will set up but they should be able to give a few hours warning.
 
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New York State and New York City is always raising the bar on emergency management and related issues. Throughout my college degrees, I've always chosen NYC to do papers on because of it. Sadly, they have the reputation of being the most attacked region in America but they are also in many cases, one of the most resilient regions in this nation as well. Aside from this weather innovation, NYC has built some significant systems concerning EM/DHS topics including their own community-wide incident management system, a state of the art fusion center and so on. Thanks for sharing this article, it was a great read! :)
 
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rdale

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I think Sandy showed that the city wasn't very resilient at all... Hospitals with generators below grade, many neighborhoods still uninhabitable, etc. Talk of true surge protection remains just talk - so the next one will be just as bad. We'll see what if the governor rips the NWS for "missing" this storm too ;)
 
Feb 9, 2007
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Oh we need plenty of work, to the infrastructure as a whole.

I've noticed most of our biggest failures in emergency management is that we tend to 'wait until the big ones' to use the lessons learned to improve our plans. IMO, that isn't good practice. In business practices, continuity (business version of crisis management), that same concept wouldn't fly right. This is because businesses often have one budget for continuity and if they wait to plan until a big incident happens, then it is too late...business is lost, profit is gone and the impact could very well be very severe.

Now the government might have more of a budget (though they seems to makes us think they don't with the national debt) but the practice is still bad. It costs the nation lives to wait until something happens before we plan for it. We should had already had a plan for Katrina, Sandy and even 9/11. It should have already been planned for.

That is where the Whole Community approach needs to kick in. Resiliency doesn't occur with just one single region or city doing the effort, it occurs when EVERYONE works together and shares the responsibility, right down to the businesses and right down to the People that a region is representing. Without this approach, the plan will simply fail.
 

rdale

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So the NYC mayor went on the air this morning and said he didn't expect to close the MTA because forecasts were showing less snow than originally anticipated.

Time to reboot the system ;)