Storms easier to weather with accurate prediction and tracking tools
“We got three-tenths last night” said one. “Oh, really,” said the other, “We got 38-100ths.” This is a common exchange among the ranching and farming community, and while rain gauges are a mighty important real-time tool for determining weather, other resources exist to calculate future conditions and see current conditions throughout the nation.
Mesonet is a network of automated weather and environmental monitoring stations. It updates data every five minutes from information transmitted from stations situated around each state in the region. The 30 stations in South Dakota relay current air temperature, humidity, and wind as well as precipitation, though not all gauges are heated, so rain fall levels are more accurate than snow fall.
“We plan to have at least one in every county, if not multiple,” said Laura Edwards, SDSU Extension state climatologist. “We have been chipping away at it, piece by piece.”
Mesonet also supplies soil moisture and temperature and thaw and frost depths. Users may also travel back in the archives as far as 2015 for weather conditions on a particular date.
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South Dakota’s website can be found at mesonet.SDState.edu.
Edwards also recommends National Weather Service’s mobile-friendly website, mobile.weather.gov. She said that apps can be handy, but the National Weather Service is more accurate, updating conditions at least twice per day. The website can keep track of past locations users have searched. The site also contains the official watches and warnings.
CoCoRaHS, Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, is a group of folks throughout the nation who have at least a simple rain and snow gauge that track daily precipitation and post conditions based on their location.
The network began in 1998 with a few observers along Colorado’s front range and has spread to up-to-date coverage through 20,000 volunteers in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas.
For those wishing to keep a running record of weather events elsewhere than a wall calendar, CoCoRaHS allows observers to make note of more than just rainfall, and access their own records for years to come. Observers names and information aren’t publicly listed, rather a location is posted for those posting.
“As a state climatologist, I will look at it and say, ‘Hey, this place has been getting a lot of snow; there is potential for flooding in the spring,’” Edwards said. “Or this location is in a drought.”
She has been an observer for CoCoRaHS since 2008, when she was living in Nevada, and she is now a state coordinator for the group.
CoCoRaHS weather information is available through the website cocorahs.org or in app stores, and anyone may sign up to be an observer. The only requirement is a clear rain/snow gauge that can be purchased for about $50 from weatheryourway.com.
The other app that Edwards recommends, and the only one she uses, is Radar Scope. The $9.99 app can be too technical for the average user, she said, but is a thorough resource in terms of weather.
Each state’s Department of Transportation also provides current road conditions at camera locations around the state, and conditions are available online and through apps.
“Once you get familiar with the app, it is so much easier than calling or looking online,” said Rich Zacher, the South Dakota Custer area engineer, covering the southwestern part of the state including Custer, Fall River, Oglala Lakota, and part of Pennington counties. “You can also save particular areas that you check often, and they will appear at the top.”
Within the last five years, the installation of cameras across the state has increased. The initial cameras, in place by the 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, were funded by grants, but the majority of the 87 cameras statewide were installed with a winter maintenance management system funded by the state of South Dakota.
The cameras upload a new photo every minute, offering the most current available information, and for the 69 cameras that offer weather, they also update the temperature and wind speed and direction.
The bird’s eye view may also be found online at SafeTravelUSA.com, however, viewing online doesn’t offer current weather conditions as the free app does. For solely acquiring weather conditions, call 511.
If a Mesonet or DOT station isn’t near enough or the National Weather Service isn’t quite accurate enough, at-home weather stations are always an option. Edwards recommends Davis Instruments. Their Vantage Pro2 weather stations are customizable and allow users to get data from remote sites with cell coverage.
The website states the weather station can “use growing degree days to accurately forecast harvest dates…prevent catastrophic frost damage. ..and track chilling requirements during crop dormancy.”
Davis weather stations are available on http://www.davisinstruments.com and start at $395.
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