Jockey’s Ridge joins the real-time weather data network
A North Carolina State Climate Office program that records weather and soil data will soon be able to collect this information at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
Jockey’s Ridge station will be 44and a research-grade, real-time weather station that makes up the North Carolina Environment and Climate Observing Network, or ECOnet. Currently, there are 43 in North Carolina, some in the coastal communities of Gates, Lewiston, Plymouth, Aurora, Castle Hayne and Bald Head, and the rest across the state as far west as Mount Mitchell.
The stations, 33-foot-tall aluminum towers some of which are solar-powered, have 15 different network-standardized sensors that read atmospheric and ground parameters such as air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, precipitation and soil moisture and temperature all at once. minute intervals. The data is then transmitted to the Cimate Office in Raleigh every five minutes, via ECOnet.
All of the data collected is on the ECOnet website, where researchers, homeowners, farmers and others can access current conditions, whether it’s too windy to apply pesticides, not the right time to planting or harvesting, if it’s too hot to work outside even trending weather, and regularly updated photos of the towers. ECOnet also maintains a historical record which is used to validate weather and climate models to improve their accuracy. All information is free and publicly available.
Dr. Sheila Saia, associate director of the state’s Office of Climate, told Coastal Review Friday that the base for the new ECOnet station at Jockey’s Ridge State Park will be installed in May. The station is expected to be operational this summer, when the data will be available on the website.
“This is actually going to be really big news for us because we currently don’t have any stations on the Outer Banks,” she said.
The program began in 1978. The first 14 stations were all based at agricultural research stations and were part of the Agricultural Network, or AgNet, Saia said. The network of weather stations was administered in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Science when there was an agricultural weather program.
“They wanted to have weather data to study to model crop yield,” she said, which is what the first 14 stations were primarily focused on, agriculture. The program was maintained shortly before the State Climate Office transferred in the late 1990s to North Carolina State University. From that point, ECOnet began to grow into what it is today and partnered with state and federal agencies including the Departments of Transportation and Air Quality.
Saia presented the basics of ECOnet at the annual conference of the North Carolina Water Resources Research Institute held last month in Raleigh.
Saia said in an interview with Coastal Review that data needs to help North Carolinians make decisions and ECOnet staff are now looking more broadly at who needs data.
“With Jockey’s Ridge Station, for example, it’s a partnership with state parks,” she said. “The availability of weather data at this location has big implications, implications for many different people, from beachgoers to emergency management for extreme events and hurricanes.”
Saia said that in some cases, it takes less than a year to set up an ECOnet station, from finding an interested partner to signing the contract with North Carolina State University, on which the climate office depends. But the Jockey’s Ridge station took longer, about two years, because it had to meet additional requirements to withstand the strong winds there.
ECOnet also has a few other stations called extended ECOnet, Saia said. These are distinct because they differ in some way from the standard tower. The most recent extended station is at Roanoke Rapids, which comes in at 3 meters. Although shorter, the tower has multiple sensors but cannot take measurements at 6 and 10 meters like standard towers. The other extended site is at Grandfather Mountain.
On Friday, the website began including these extended sites.
“Before today,” she said on Friday, “We didn’t have the ECOnet to extend the stations on this map, but as of today they’re in place, so they’re represented in the form of squares.
ECOnet is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Mesonet program, described on its website as a nationwide network of networks that provide nonfederal climate data to NOAA and other government organizations, emergency planners and to first responders, researchers and the public.
Although NOAA has federally supported weather stations throughout the county, they have found that these are still very scattered in terms of emergency management needs, Saia said. The national Mesonet program is specifically for states to fund smaller networks. These funds are used to support ongoing maintenance.
The Mesonet program is very complementary and it’s meant to be that way, Saia said. The National Weather Service actually uses this data to make forecasts in places where there are no federally funded stations. This allows for more accurate weather forecasts.
ECOnet data is used to help understand how weather processes occur.
“We don’t have a full understanding of why the weather happens and why different weather events happen because otherwise we’d have 100% certainty, right? We’re still learning and researchers are using so this data because it is available,” Saia said.
But the disadvantage of these stations is that the data collected only represents the landscape from which it is collected. For example, those outside of Chapel Hill where it is not urbanized will have a different experience than what the Chapel Hill station would record.
“We always have conversations about whether we need another station there because it’s really helpful,” she said. The more forested rural part of Orange County is not the same as the urban part of Orange County. “We’re still thinking of somewhere a station could go that’s actually going to help people make decisions that aren’t already there?”
Saia, before joining the national climate office in June 2021, worked on the development of ShellCast, an online tool used to help shellfish farmers close shellfish harvesting areas. The app is updated each morning with data from the state Climate Bureau.
She said a lot of their work is outreach and that is part of the mission, extension and outreach.
“We have an understanding of the research, but we also know that there is someone somewhere in North Carolina who needs to make a decision. We kind of stand in that middle ground where we’re aware of research and new advances, but we’re also aware of the decisions that people make, so we kind of bring those two together to support communities of North Carolina.