Spurred by the Federal Highway Administration, a two-year effort to combine weather data collected by a variety of government departments in Pennsylvania will eventually provide a dense, real-time assessment of weather throughout the state, according to Penn State researchers.
"The FHA encouraged us to stitch together weather data sets to give a density of weather information not previously available," says Paul G. Knight, state climatologist and a Penn State meteorologist.
The data comes from 33 airport locations supported by the Federal Aviation Administration, 84 weather stations located in meridians or on roadsides installed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and 50 sensors operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The airport information has routinely been available to the state meteorologist, but the PennDOT and DEP data, while used by the individual departments, was not widely available.
"The PennDOT information has significant use for crews trying to keep roads open in the winter. However, lots of people would like to have the combined data sets including segments of agrobusiness and the power industry," Knight told attendees Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Orlando, Fla.
Combining the data is not a simple task. The information collected by PennDOT includes temperature, dew point, wind, visibility, surface and subsurface pavement temperature, and if there is precipitation. Data is remotely accessed by modem.
The researchers, who include Knight, Brian B. Ayers, research assistant at Penn State, and Richard Grumm of the National Weather Service in State College, began by checking the data.
"We know the FAA data is good because we have been using it for quite a while," says Knight. "We are running the DEP and PennDOT data through quality control."
One challenge is that three different companies supply the Roadway Weather Information Systems used by PennDOT and each uses a different format for reporting data.
"In total, there are probably six different data formats that we need to combine," says Knight. "Combining the data into one mesonet of hourly temperature, precipitation, wind and relative humidity readings is the first phase of the project."
The next step will be to create real-time displays of the observations. The web interface is being done in collaboration with Penn State Environment Institute, the Science Operations Officer at the State College National Weather Service and senior management at ZED-X Inc. an agro-meteorological firm. Finally, the project will develop user-specific products.
"First, of course, we would like to give the information back to PennDOT at a density of data that they did not have before," says Knight. "They started with 84 sites and we can give them back an additional 83 sites, doubling their information. Even more will be done for the DEP."
"Studies on wind flow could be very useful for wind power generating farms that are starting up in Pennsylvania," he adds. "And of course, the National Weather Service would also like the information."
Added into the data mix are the daily measurements taken by the 160 to 180 Cooperative Reporting Sites, volunteers who provide high and low temperatures, precipitation and snowfall every day. With these, the project could supply a daily survey of more than 300 data points, a significant increase in the density of daily data available.
The project is directed by the Cooperative for Operational Meteorological Education and Training, part of the University Center for Atmospheric Research, and funded by the Federal Highway Administration. - By A'ndrea Elyse Messer
[Contact: Paul G. Knight, A'ndrea Elyse Messer]