What’s With This Weather?

One of the members of The Smarter Home Club is my good friend, Jeremy McCollum. Jeremy and I worked together for a number of years for a software company that made programs for the technical analysis of stocks and mutual funds. Considering our work environment, I was surprised to learn that Jeremy’s degree is in Meteorology – and I thought it was very, VERY cool! I invited Jeremy to share with us his background and to help us understand how weather data matters to the Smarter Home!

Jeremy, what started your interest in meteorology?

My fascination with the weather goes as far back as I can remember. I have always been interested in personal weather stations as well. I can chalk that up to two factors beyond my basic weather interest. I grew up in the North Carolina mountains. In the ‘80’s when I was growing up, and probably until the mid-90’s when Doppler radar advanced and became widespread, weather radar coverage in the mountains was spotty and forecasting was fickle to say the least. I always felt if you had some weather data of your own perhaps you could figure out a little more accurately what your conditions would be, rather than relying on the “official” data that could be dozens of miles away and at a significantly different altitude.

In addition I grew up with stories of Oklahoma weather, as that is where my Mom grew up. Between her stories and anecdotal stories of weather that went from blue skies to tornadoes in 5 minutes, I always felt that perhaps you could gain a personal edge in knowing what was coming. As I grew up, researched, and studied meteorology in college I learned that tornadoes and severe weather don’t quite drop out of thin blue skied air like that. But the fascination with personal weather stations persisted.

So if weather stations can’t give the “personal edge” in forecasting, what do you see their purpose as?

Improvements in weather tools and my own weather knowledge showed me that a personal weather station would not be essential to forewarning me of a surprise blizzard when an inch of snow was forecast, or a surprise tornado out of the blue (no, Asheville, NC is not tornado country). So I wondered what use such data could be- temperature, relative humidity, wind velocity and direction, barometric pressure, rainfall totals, those critical building blocks of weather that are just as important to you and your weekend outdoor plans as they are to the National Weather Service.

Personal weather station data can be uploaded to the Citizen Weather Observer Program, which has access to some 7000 stations in North America. Some fascinating information about the program can be found at: http://wxqa.com/ Seeing that the Department of Homeland Security and the National Transportation Safety Board makes use of this data certainly catches the eye. Also catching my eye are the Denver Urban Drainage and Flood Control District and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Floods and avalanches are both situations where local extreme precipitation totals, which might slip through the cracks of official reporting stations or radar based precipitation estimates, could lead to life threatening circumstances with very little warning.

Both Weather Underground and Accu-Weather use data from personal weather stations to improve the accuracy of their forecasts, especially on a local level. I’ve also recently discovered that personal weather station data has been vital to predicting the growth patterns of wildfires in those all important early hours and days of a fire. Given that wildfires are becoming increasingly severe, personal data will likely become even more vital. Areas of high wildfire risk are typically rugged and remote, and mountain induced micro-climates add to the complexity of fire forecasting.

Are there more personal uses for the data, in addition to contributing it to the big research organisations?

What can personal weather stations do on the home-front on a day to day basis? They work nicely with elements of smart home technology. Rainfall gauges can let you know when the lawn needs watering, or even help turn sprinklers on if that dry spell has gotten to be a bit excessive. Sunlight levels and temperature can trigger automated heat, air conditioning, house lights, window shades and even window tinting of “smart glass”. Notifications of freezing temperature levels could provide an alert that the water needs to be turned on to avoid frozen pipes in the winter.

I find myself wondering if humidity readings from around a home would make it possible to detect areas where mold growth could be a problem, based on persistent high humidity levels. It’s not always in the anticipated areas like a damp basement or a laundry room. Could such readings also give an early warning to leaking pipes?

I also find myself wondering if a collection of anemometers around the house could show how local topography and obstacles effect the wind direction on the very small scale of the home, to determine what parts of the house siding or shingles are going to take the biggest poundings from local wind conditions. Clearly personal weather stations have come a long way from being an interesting science fair presentation. How much further can we take them?

Those are all concerns that a lot of Smart Home advocates are concerned with and work to address in their homes. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us!

SmarterHome.club is the website for our Facebook community, The Smarter Home Club – which is an umbrella for all kinds of smart home technologies – home automation, security, custom electronics, weather stations, alternative energy, you name it. DIY focused.

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