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Science

Advanced weather detection system: New York NOW

Story Begins at 19:00

Is there a way to mitigate the damage caused by devastating storms like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene or the blizzard that blanketed parts of western New York recently?

Governor Cuomo wants New York to take matters into its own hands with a state wide Advanced Weather Detection System. But can this project limit the damage to property and loss of life caused by previous storms?

“I don’t know what you can do even in retrospect about record rainfall and record floods that are gonna fill creeks, that are gonna come down and damage bridges and roads as they do it.”

In 2011, an unusually drained Governor Cuomo addressed the media after touring some of the widespread devastation in the Catskills and Capital Region caused by Hurricane Irene. Just one year later, Superstorm Sandy slammed into New York City, causing nearly 40 deaths and completely destroying some neighborhoods like Breezy Point in Queens as well as 100-thousand other homes on Long and Staten Islands.

The Governor is calling for a weather monitoring system that he says would help first responders better assess when a storm is posing serious danger.

"So we'll be able to tell a county official when the creeks are rising in his or her county, which is important why? Because then they can predict flooding in their county. So I think everybody agrees more information, more data is only better and that's what our system will do and our system will go to the National Weather Service. So they'll just get more input and more data from more sensors."

The sensors he’s referring to are commonly called Mesonets, a combination of metroscale network.

The sensors that would be strategically placed at numerous sites around the state would collect information on environmental factors in real time. Factors like wind, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, precipitation accumulation and even lightening are all monitored by the sensor and then disseminated to meteorologists.

One company that already has hundreds of these sensors in around the state is EarthNetwork. They partner with first responders like the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, schools like the Gordon Creek Elementary in Ballston Spa and the National Grid Electric Company.

Bill Callahan, Vice President of EarthNetworks says to get the most out of a Mesonet system you need several hundred weather stations sending updated data to advanced weather prediction supercomputers every 3 minutes.

Callahan says this allows meterologists to fine tune their forecasts down to the hyper local level.

"Just think about the geographical distances. Right now the storm that we have ongoing today is both a geographically and topographically influenced. So the further west you get, because the low is moving right up over southern New England, most of the areas over in that region even where there's elevation is getting rain, as opposed to out here and some of the lower lying areas, temperatures have warmed and the perception is melting by the time it gets to the ground. But you get out here, a little bit further west of the capital region, up into the hill country and you get a little more elevation and you're on the western side of the storm you're gonna get frozen precipitation. And we've been seeing it here change back and forth."

The National Weather Service says it welcomes additional real time data that can help them validate changing updates like watches and warnings. But as Chris Vaccaro, spokesperson for the federal agency points out, data collected from Mesonets is limited.

“To understand what at all New York State can expect in a couple of days from now, this weekend or next week. We’re looking at patterns over the Pacific Ocean over Canada over the upper Midwest to see what is coming upstream so that we know what to expect further downstream by the time it gets to New York State.”

Vaccaro says a dense New York system of Mesonets or any other weather monitoring system isn’t crucial to the National Weather Service.

“That data, that system will collect will provide valuable additional information that is already at the fingertips of National Weather Service forecasters that would supplement and add to the existing dense network and will help forecasters provide another source for forecasters to both confirm what’s happening on the ground and vs what they’re seeing on their screens.”

Governor Cuomo remains undeterred. He readily admits that while he is not a weather expert, it is still worth it for the state to invest 18-million-dollars in a weather detection system.

What’s unclear is whether that state system will build on the 27 weather detection stations currently operated by the National Weather Service or if it will expand on the network of Mesonet’s operated by EarthNetwork.

“You know it is Mother Nature wins at the end of the day.”

Governor Cuomo has yet to announce a timeline to implement his New York Advanced Weather Detection System, or where the funding will come from.

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