Supplement to Stalking the Weather”
“Kentucky is such a diverse state,” says Dr. Stuart A. Foster, state climatologist for Kentucky, who also serves as director of the Kentucky Climate Center and the Kentucky Mesonet, as well as professor of geography at Western Kentucky University.
“You go from the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky to the Mississippi River in western Kentucky. You go from forested mountains into rolling pastureland and livestock into relatively flat cropland in the west. In the central part of the state, you have a large region of karst topography with the cave systems and most of the drainage underground. That can affect the weather pattern actually. It’s a very complex landscape that makes it a fascinating place to study weather and climate processes.”
With such a diverse landscape, it may seem that choosing an ideal mesonet site would be difficult. Really, the site selection process involves three fundamental components. “First and foremost,” says Foster, “we strive to follow scientific criteria developed by the World Meteorological Organization. Without getting technical, we seek sites that are broadly representative of the surrounding area and which have few, if any, factors that could result in biased measurements.” An ideal site is a pristine, natural area that is not prone to land use change or development over the years to come. “Such sites are rare, but it is a goal to work toward, nonetheless.
“Second, we try to identify and work closely with local partners,” Foster says, adding that many mesonet sites are on public property. A third consideration is finding sites that serve local needs, while also meeting mesonet requirements. “Hence,” he says, “we have some sites located in conjunction with public schools. Our site in LaRue County is an excellent example of a local partnership where our station is located at the LaRue County Environmental Education and Research Center.”
Working with civic-minded private landowners who see the value of the Kentucky Mesonet for their communities is also welcome. Foster says, “We view these partnerships as an endorsement at the local level of the value that the mesonet brings to people in communities throughout the Commonwealth.”
Meade County RECC member Chuck McGary owns land in Breckinridge County and was impressed when he first heard that Kentucky was implementing the mesonet. “I believe in the system, and if there was any way I could help, I would,” he says of his decision to offer his property as a mesonet site.
Tim Gossett, Meade County RECC vice president of Member Sales and Marketing, agreed to have a site constructed on his property as well, after hearing Foster discuss a need for a suitable site in Meade County. Gossett’s acreage, located in the middle of the county, was suitable, but the mesonet couldn’t be installed until AT&T coverage could support communications. Once that happened, contracts were signed, and installation at the site soon followed.
First, the foundation was prepared, which involved digging holes and pouring concrete to secure the bases of the tower, precipitation gauge, and power supply. Some sites then require a security fence as the next stage; however, this wasn’t necessary in Gossett’s case. The final phase was the installation of equipment and instruments, as well as the power supply, batteries charged by solar panels. Before the mesonet data was available publicly, internal checks were performed to ensure all instruments were working properly. Afterward, mesonet technicians became responsible for station maintenance.
Even so, Gossett says he checks on the site every day, especially after a unique situation occurred shortly after installation on his property. “About a month after they put it in, it was struck by lightning,” says Gossett, who was quick to let the mesonet folks know the conduit had been blown out of the ground and a door panel had blown off. “I’m willing to try to help them any way I can.”
When asked how he feels about having the mesonet in his own back yard, McGary says, “I think it’s great. It’s got to be somewhere. It’s good to have it right here.”
“It’s neat having it out there,” agrees Gossett, who adds that landowners receive no compensation by having a mesonet site on their property. But he does receive satisfaction in knowing that it’s helping somebody else. “If it benefits Meade County, then it’s worthwhile.”
To read the Kentucky Living October 2012 feature that goes along with this supplement, go to Stalking the Weather.