To prepare for climate change, states are getting into the weather business.
Thirty-eight states are operating or building networks of weather monitoring stations to provide more precise data than they receive from the National Weather Service. They’re using that information to help spot flash floods, assess wildfire risk, inform farming practices and choose locations for renewable energy projects.
The programs are known as mesonets, which are networks that detect weather events spanning 1 to 150 miles. They’re intended to fill the gaps between National Weather Service sites, which can miss localized rain events, wind conditions or air quality issues.
“(Mesonets) can see and detect things in real time that might otherwise be between our federal capabilities — flooding rains, severe wind gusts and things like that,” said Curtis Marshall, who oversees the National Mesonet Program with the National Weather Service. “For the longest time, only a handful of states had built out that capability, but it has greatly accelerated in the last few years.”
Marshall’s program supports state efforts and buys data from their mesonets to bolster federal forecasting. State officials formed their networks to protect residents from extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent because of climate change. They can also provide key information to leaders in various economic sectors and public services that are affected by the weather.
“The best of this is yet to come,” said Kenny Blumenfeld, senior climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources State Climatology Office. “People are still exploring what they can do with the data, and I don't think this has fully matured into its final form.”
State officials say that, over time, their stations also will help establish a baseline to examine how climate change affects local conditions.
Last month, Maryland leaders announced plans to build the latest state mesonet, a network of 75 weather stations that will be installed thanks to $4 million in state funding.
“One of the main goals of the Maryland mesonet is to improve warnings of flash flooding for the public,” said Joey Krastel, disaster risk analyst with the Maryland Department of Emergency Management. “These systems across the country have been proven to save lives, save states money before and during weather events, improve weather forecasts and increase early warning times.”
Maryland needs to fill its “data holes,” he said, because its diverse topography can create a wide variance in conditions over short distances. The mesonet will help officials decide where to send snowplows, when to close schools and when to issue emergency warnings. The state hopes to install its first stations within a year, Krastel said.