Wild Winter: Data Collection in the Age of Extreme Weather

Apr 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

While spring has finally sprung, it may well take some time for large swaths of the country to fully thaw out from memories of the brutal, record-breaking, polar vortex that punctuated the 2013/2014 winter. A National Climate Data Center overview notes that this was the 25th most extreme U.S. winter since 1910 and the 34th coldest on record.

But despite the miseries of a relentless freeze, we are on the same page as the popular blog Motherboard—from satellites to radars to weather ships and beyond, the amount of climate data collected every day is awesome… and that’s exactly, word-for-word the name of this blog post by Motherboard! Weather forecasters rely on a superabundance of data collection tools, including over 10,000 manned and automatic surface weather stations and 1,000 upper-air stations. And it all goes back to the National Climate Data Center—run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—which “maintains the world’s largest climate data archive and provides climatological services and data to every sector of the United States economy and to users worldwide.”

Indeed, the NOAA’s Climate.gov is a treasure trove of real-time data collection in action. The site’s map application offers a range of regularly updated global weather data snapshots. Sea ice, precipitation, atmospheric carbon dioxide, surface temperature—it is all here. And their Global Climate Dashboard, replete with a century’s worth of temperature data and over 50 years of carbon dioxide data, provides an essential barometer of climate change.

Now, one major impact of extreme winter weather is evident on the nation’s roadways, which can be made extremely dangerous and impassable in severe snow and ice events. We saw this hazard on full display in Atlanta in late January, as thousands of drivers were stranded on highways when the city was blindsided by a winter storm. Here is an arena, though, where mobile data collection solutions are on the rise. A new “connected vehicles” venture by the U.S. Department of Transportation – Research and Innovative Technology Administration seeks to leverage mobile sources “to focus the analysis on improving the ability to detect and forecast road weather and pavement conditions by specific roadway links.”

Such a mobile data collection enabled approach to weather forecasting and preparedness could significantly mitigate the risks associated with roadway travel in inclement weather—a welcome development in an age defined by a climate of extremes. We may not be able to control the weather, but we can be encouraged by mobile data collection technologies contributing to our greater safety in the face of the next big storm.