1.3 Improving mesonet communications and data retrieval by leveraging partnerships

Monday, 18 July 2011: 11:00 AM
Salon C (Asheville Renaissance)
Mark S. Brooks, NC State University, Raleigh, NC; and A. Syed, S. Heuser, A. P. Sims, and P. A. Sadowski

Many states and local organizations operate their own mesonet, a network of automated climate observing stations. The North Carolina Environment and Climate Observing Network (NC ECONet) is one such network installed, operated and maintained by the State Climate Office of North Carolina. To date, there are 37 ECONet stations across North Carolina from the mountains to the coast. Each station collects data at 1-minute intervals. Measurements include temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction, photosynthetically active radiation, incoming solar radiation, barometric pressure, soil temperature and soil moisture. Data are used frequently by researchers, citizens, businesses, emergency managers, and the National Weather Service. Sustaining communications are critical for accessing the data, especially during severe weather.

Phone lines are one option for communicating with ECONet stations. In fact, most ECONet stations rely on telephone lines for communicating with the State Climate Office. However, this is expensive to maintain and woefully unreliable in remote locations. As additional stations are added to the network, the ongoing cost of maintaining phone lines continues to increase and requires more phone lines at our data processing facility. Moreover, simultaneous collection of data is limited by the number of outgoing phone lines and connection quality.

Internet communication is another option for communicating with ECONet stations. Some stations are located where Internet access is available. Such stations are equipped with a laptop computer inside a nearby building, which is connected to the weather station via wireless RF modems. The laptop communicates with the data processing facility at defined intervals. However, this is cumbersome to manage. It requires a computer at each remote location, coordination with IT security at the remote location, and the use of the Internet connection at the remote location. While inexpensive, it is not a scalable solution.

VHF or UHF radios present the best option for communicating with ECONet stations. The State Climate Office of NC is collaborating closely with the NC Highway Patrol to introduce radio communications with ECONet stations. After obtaining the lawful permits and FCC licenses, ECONet stations will communicate via VHF radio through the Highway Patrol's extensive and robust microwave communications network. Using a dedicated radio frequency, data can be collected from remote locations at short time intervals thus increasing its value during severe weather and emergency conditions. Although capital expenses are high initially, long-term expenses will be negligible. Testing has begun in Raleigh with several ECONet stations. Plans are being developed to scale this solution statewide.

This presentation will detail the different communications methods used by the NC ECONet. The working relationship with the NC Highway Patrol will be highlighted including plans for use of their microwave network in improving ECONet communications reliability and performance.

The State Climate Office of North Carolina is the primary source for NC weather and climate information and is involved in all aspects of climate research, education, and extension services. The State Climate Office is a public-service center, part of the UNC system, housed at North Carolina State University and was one of the first officially recognized state climate offices by the American Association of State Climatologists.

Since 1929, the North Carolina Highway Patrol has made the roads of NC safer. The mission of the NC Highway Patrol is to ensure safe, efficient transportation on our streets and highways, reduce crime, and respond to natural and manmade disasters. As part of safe, efficient transportation, weather plans an increasingly important role. By partnering with the State Climate Office of North Carolina, the NC SHP hopes to further improve the daily safety of citizenry and when responding to natural and manmade disasters.

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