June 5, 2017
Weather in eastern North Carolina is notoriously unpredictable, bright blue skies one minute and rain the next. Now, East Carolina University has a new tool to help measure and forecast weather so choosing between rain boots or flip flops will no longer be a guessing game.
WeatherSTEM is a weather platform that provides real-time weather readings, collects data, takes photos and videos, and automatically sends weather updates on its Facebook and Twitter accounts. The information is available 24 hours a day and is used by different groups across the university for safety and research purposes.
Lauren Mink, ECU’s emergency planner, said WeatherSTEM was appealing for many reasons including its ability to take measurements on campus versus at the Pitt-Greenville Airport across town and the forecasts provided by Weather Underground, a popular weather service.
“The information can be used to make executive decisions during hazardous weather events, like this past spring commencement,” said Mink. In May, when severe weather caused the cancellation of spring commencement, WeatherSTEM’s lightning strike and weather measurements were instrumental in making the decision to cancel the event.
Mink added that WeatherSTEM will be another tool included in the university’s designation as StormReady by the National Weather Service and will provide information for damage assessments after major weather events.
ECU’s weather station is located on the Willis Building on Reade Street and the environmental camera is mounted on Tyler Residence Hall overlooking Gateway Residence Hall and the north side of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. WeatherSTEM provides weather readings and collects a treasure trove of data that is automatically uploaded to a webpage. The camera on Tyler Hall takes a photo every minute and they are compiled into a time-lapse video each day which is shared on the its webpage and social media accounts.
WeatherSTEM has an app for smartphones that allows anyone to create a free account to set-up customized notifications for extreme heat or cold, lightning, high winds and watches and warnings.
ECU Athletics uses the weather platform to monitor conditions, particularly heat and lightning, to determine if it is safe to conduct outdoor practices and games.
“It is critical that staff have accurate and real-time data on lightning. WeatherSTEM alerts to the location of lightning strikes in proximity to ECU playing fields and notifies staff to when lightning has passed and it’s safe to return,” said Mike Hanley, associate athletic director.
Hanley added that accurate forecasting of heat indexes allows practice schedules to be changed to avoid the most dangerous times of day. The medical staff can take appropriate precautions to help prevent heat-related complications.
The educational component and data make WeatherSTEM a valuable research tool. Dr. Tom Rickenbach, associate professor of atmospheric science at ECU has used the data graphics from the weather station and time-lapse videos in his classes and research. Rickenbach and his colleague, Dr. Rosana Ferreira, received a $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study weather patterns in the southeastern United States.
“The sky cloud videos will be particularly useful in my research to document the occurrence of afternoon thunderstorm clouds in our region, especially this time of year,” said Rickenbach. “These are fantastic instructional aids and are a great way to get students excited about the weather.”
ECU’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety provided the solar-powered unit which has been providing data for two months.
“We may consider additional stations in other campus locations, such as the Health Sciences Campus or the Coastal Studies Institute,” said Mink.
WeatherSTEM was originally created as a way to bring meteorological science into Florida schools and grew into an educational and safety tool. Learning resources and short meteorological courses are available on the webpage. UNC Greensboro, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, Winston-Salem State and Appalachian State are the other UNC system institutions utilizing WeatherSTEM.
Get WeatherSTEM alerts and weather information:
Facebook: East Carolina University WeatherSTEM