Why Local Weather Station Data Is Important

All weather is local.

Sure, patterns and cycles in the atmospheric impact the oceans, the patterns and cycles of the ocean affect the atmopshere, the larger scale features affect the smaller-scale features, and the smaller-scale features can effect the large scale features. But – ultimately – you care about the current conditions and the forecast for where you live. Not a state to the west, not a county to the west, not a city to the west, but where you live. And that’s why all weather is local. As a meteorologist, you must think globally and forecast locally.

A forecast for where you live is more likely to be accurate when we know the current conditions where you live. As George Carlin said, “I don’t know anybody who lives at the airport.” While reliable instruments for measuring atmospheric conditions – including the temperature – are often located at airports, the weather must also be understood away from airports. There are several airports in the Tri-State, but there are hundreds of thousands of people in our area that don’t live within 5 miles of an airport (and weather conditions can be dramatically different over a 5 mile span).

One of the most common ways to showcase local weather conditions is a temperature map. Rain or shine, people always care about the temperature. Here’s a typical temperature map you’ll find on Local 12:


Regardless of the source, it is incredibly likely that your community or one nearby is represented on this map. Nearly all counties are represented, and some counties have 2 or 3 temperatures listed. It is impossible to get all of the weather stations in the Tri-State on this map; this is about as full as it can get.

But what is the source of this temperature data? The simple answer is: “there are multiple sources.” The more complex answer is below.

There are eight airports in the Tri-State that have an Automated Airport Weather Station (ASOS) or Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) that share data with the FAA directly. These observations are taken under strict standards; for example, temperatures are measured 2 meters above the ground and wind speeds are measured 10 meters above the ground. These sites also report the visibility. Outside of maintenance and occasional power outages, these sites share observations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year:


While those sites are very reliable, Remote Automated Weather Station (RAWS) sites are also run 24 hours a day but report just basic weather conditions (temperature, winds, dewpoints, etc.). These RAWS sites are run by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to monitor wildfire potential in and near national forests. These sites always report once or twice an hour with no exceptions (including special reports for strong winds or severe weather). There are three RAWS sites in the Tri-State (Crittenden, Big Oaks Refuge, and Shawnee National Forest):


The Shawnee National Forest RAWS is not displayed to make room for West Union’s temperature (see below).

Roadway Weather Information System (RWIS) sites are operated by state transportation departments, including the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Ohio Department Of Transportation, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. These sites measure atmospheric conditions as well as pavement conditions (wetness, temperatures, etc.):


The Kentucky Mesonet is the official climate network of Kentucky and is operated by Western Kentucky University. Most counties in Kentucky have a site, and they are positioned to measure temperatures, wind speeds, rainfall amounts, and dewpoints in areas away from airports and other major observing sites:


The Kentucky Mesonet site in Burlington is not shown to make room for the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and Union weather station data.

The temperature map is pretty full with temperatures already, but there are several communities we have left out so far. To fill in the gaps, we use personal weather station data. More specifically, owners of a personal weather station (that they bought) have configured their weather station software to share data with us. With the exception of Lebanon and Falmouth, the data shown on Local 12 from these sites come from personal weather stations:


Temperatures listed for Falmouth and Lebanon come from the AWOS at the Gene Synder Airport and the Lebanon Airport, respectively. These observations, however, are not sent directly to the FAA and the NWS through a certified channel; they are sent to us through a secondary data stream NOAA operates called MADIS, or the Meteorological Assimilation Data Ingest System.

Remember, the temperatures on the maps above are just the ones that fit on the map. There are dozens of other sites in our area that we monitor.

With ASOS, AWOS, RWIS, RAWS, and Kentucky Mesonet sites in the Tri-State, why is there a need for personal weather station data? It all comes full circle: all weather is local. Personal weather station data shows us small-scale wind, precipitation, and temperature changes. These personal weather station stations can and have verify Severe Thunderstorm Warnings and Flash Flood Warnings. Also, higher-resolution, modern computer forecast models analyze local weather station data and may incorporate the data into the model.

If you own a personal weather station, please consider sharing your data with the Citizen Weather Observer Program. If you use software to upload your weather station data online, odds are good that you can share your data with CWOP. Step-by-step directions for sharing data from popular weather stations and their software to CWOP can be found here: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/epz/?n=cwopepz. Many towns and cities don’t have a weather station reporting at this time.

If you have any questions about which weather station to buy or how to share data with CWOP, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section of this post.

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