2.2 Societal Benefits of Mesonets: a New Jersey Example

Monday, 11 January 2016: 1:45 PM
Room 245 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
David A. Robinson, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ

The New Jersey Weather and Climate Network (NJWxNet) (njweather.org) is a growing constellation of 59 weather stations operated by the Office of the NJ State Climatologist at Rutgers University. As with all of the mesonets that have been established across the nation over the past several decades, the NJWxNet serves as a comprehensive information resource for state and local weather and climate monitoring, weather forecasting, and weather/climate-related decision making. Observations are gathered every five minutes, with standard atmospheric variables monitored at all stations, and somewhat less common ones such as solar radiation and soil temperature and moisture gathered at several dozen of them. Most stations are solar powered and communicate with a server at Rutgers via cellular modem. This presentation will provide an overview of the NJWxNet and discuss the multiple ways in which the network benefits all throughout the Garden State.

On a day-to-day basis, NJWxNet data and products are used for numerous purposes. These range from utility companies anticipating energy demand, to an environmental organization studying turtle migration, to a parent deciding how to dress the kids as they head to the school bus, to students and teachers studying their environment using local real-time observations.

There are also critical times when the value of a mesonet shines forth. For instance, within a short period this past summer, the NJWxNet was used to monitor the dispersal of a billowing smoke plume from a massive warehouse fire and in NWS decisions to issue flash flood warnings as more than four inches of rain fell in local cloudbursts right over several stations. A train derailment and subsequent toxic spill several years ago prompted support for an expansion of wind monitoring capabilities in six counties. Emergency management officials knew of the NJWxNet and have turned to the ONJSC to install nine new mesonet stations.

There is no better example of the value of the NJWxNet in serving society than the performance of the network during Hurricane/Post Tropical Storm Sandy in late October 2012. In addition to the regular NJWxNet website, a Sandy dashboard was quickly developed and rushed online just over 24 hours before landfall. The dashboard represented the first time that five-minute observations were made publicly available (previously it had been hourly), as ingest of such observations had only recently commenced and new display software was still being tested. This real time information, along with pertinent consultation, was provided to the NJ Office of Emergency Management (where the Governor was situated for most of the storm), the National Weather Service, multiple media outlets, and a host of others.

A NJWxNet station recorded the strongest gust (91 mph at Seaside Heights) achieved in New Jersey during the storm. The only NJWxNet equipment sustaining damage was a single anemometer, and, thanks to solar or generator power at most stations, only six stations failed to report for an extended period. In addition to the efforts of the NJWxNet field and office staff, credit also goes to the cellular network that remained intact and to the Rutgers computer center that remained generator powered throughout the event and in the days afterward.

Inspired by the vision and tireless efforts of the late Ken Crawford, the NJWxNet began to be cobbled together over 15 years ago. Ken's generous guidance helped the New Jersey network and those in other states blossom and mature. What a wonderful legacy Ken left as those of us attempt to emulate the success of the Oklahoma Mesonet and, ultimately, serve the citizens of our states.

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