Stony Brook is home to a new weather monitoring station that can provide critical information for emergency managers during severe storms and even non-weather events such as terror attacks .
The 30-foot-high automated station is part of the New York State Mesonet, a statewide network of 180 environmental observation sites with locations in Wantagh, Southold and East Hampton.
The network’s up-to-the-minute readings can improve forecasts and provide hyperlocal data during major storms. Its real-time, high-resolution readings of temperature, wind speed and direction at various levels of the atmosphere also could be vital in case of human-made dangers, whether an industrial accident or terrorist attack, according to mesonet officials.
Emergency managers could use the data to better determine the direction of any hazardous material in the atmosphere and to make evacuation calls.
“Detailed wind and weather data are vital in case of a terrorist attack . . . especially one involving a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon,” said Bill Korbel, News 12 Long Island meteorologist. “We can never have too much current and accurate data.”
Every five minutes, the Island’s three standard Mesonet stationsrelay updated data from near the Earth’s surface, including temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, rainfall and snow depth.
The game-changer, though, is the Mesonet’s string of 17 “profiler” sites across the state, including in Stony Brook, Wantagh and East Hampton, said Everette Joseph, director of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at University at Albany. These sites capture measurements a mile or more into the atmosphere and can indicate where winds would carry plumes of potentially dangerous or toxic materials .
Research scientists at the university designed and now operate the network, which launched in 2014. It was built with $30.5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, administered by the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
The added data are a boon for area weather forecasters, too. They can use it to monitor conditions more closely along Nassau’s South Shore, Suffolk’s North Shore and on the East End, where weather can be so varied.
The Mesonet is “a relatively new and fantastic tool,” said Tim Morrin, National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton.
The network supplements and in some cases surpasses observations from traditional sources, Morrin said, such as the weather service’s own twice-daily balloon launch in Upton and automated systems at area airports.
Getting the Mesonet’s readings from higher in the atmosphere, he said, is “like launching a radiosonde weather balloon every five minutes.”
The network’s other mission is to help with practical decision-making, such as how long a power utility should keep employees on hand during stormy conditions or whether to delay the start of school during winter weather.
Jeffrey Carlson of the Three Village school system relied on the Stony Brook station, located on district property, one wet morning this past winter. The assistant superintendent for business services gave buses the green light to roll as usual after seeing temperatures, found at nysmesonet.org, had never dropped below 33 or 34 degrees.
“I knew nothing would be frozen on the ground,” he said. And that data was for where he was sitting — not for Kennedy or LaGuardia airports, he said, pointing to the station that is viewable from his office window.
The Mesonet can be an educational tool as well. Stephanie Burns, an earth science and astronomy teacher at Connetquot High School in Bohemia, has her students compare weather data from various spots on Long Island, including data they’ve gathered with handheld instruments. Now they can add Mesonet stations to the mix.
“The students should be able to notice a difference between the data at school, and weather observations on the North Shore, South Shore and North Fork,” she said.
The New York State Mesonet, which installed the Stony Brook station in February, now wants to show schools, utilities, transportation agencies and other businesses how they can benefit from the weather readings, Joseph said.This is with an eye, in some cases, to future revenue resources to help sustain the network.
Nick Bassill, atmospheric scientist with the Mesonet, recently visited MTA headquarters to discuss how the data could help the agency make decisions when severe weather is in the forecast, he said.
“We now have the data,” Bassill said. The focus is turning to “how can we . . . make people want to use it?”
An earlier version of this story provided the wrong link for the New York State Mesonet's website.
Correction: The New York State Mesonet’s website is nysmesonet.org. An earlier version provided an incorrect website address for the network of weather-monitoring sites. Published Aug. 14, 2018, Page a15