When severe thunderstorms fire up around the Commonwealth, forecasters with the National Weather Service often make use of a network of automated weather observation stations around the state. The network, known as Kentucky Mesonet, has seen steady growth over the last eight years.
But the challenge now facing the network is long-term sustainability.
State climatologist and WKU professor Stu Foster says the automated reporting sites provide real-time data such as temperature, wind speed, wind direction and rainfall amounts. The data is collected and uploaded to the Kentucky Climate Center every five minutes and is available for anyone to see.
He says it can give the weather service a better idea of what’s actually going on on the ground in addition to what they can see on radar.
“What we’re told by weather service officials is that probably the one most critical piece of information the Mesonet provides is the wind data. So they can see to what extent that storm environment in the atmosphere [and if] the winds are actually getting down and reaching the ground and potentially causing damage.”
After an initial federal grant of close to $3 million, Mesonet, which is based at WKU, has had to look for ways to sustain itself. Foster says they’ve gotten good financial support at the local level from counties who have see the benefit of the reporting sites
“Public safety is really a critical concern for them,” said Foster. “I’ve been very impressed with talking with judge-executives across the state by just how many times that’s the first thing off their lips is making sure the people in their county are safe or that they can do as much as they can to protect people.”
Foster says the Kentucky Climate Center is also seeking federal and state money to help fund the network. He says he’d like to increase the number of Mesonet reporting stations from 65 to 100 to provide better coverage over all of Kentucky.
He says a he’d also like to see denser network, allowing for multiple stations in large urban centers like Lousiville, Lexington and Bowling Green. He also notes increased reporting sites in rural areas could help in the agriculture industry.
He says Mesonet crews conduct three maintenance checks on each reporting station per year and address problems with malfunctioning instruments as they arise.