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Kentucky Mesonet works to build funding model, increase support

Now in its eighth year of operation, the Kentucky Mesonet is looking to build a broad base of funding and support for the statewide climate and weather network.

Kentucky Mesonet logoThe Mesonet, housed in the Kentucky Climate Center at WKU, has stations in 64 counties. The first station was installed at the WKU Farm in May 2007.

“We have been economical in operating the Mesonet infrastructure, but are challenged to ensure the sustainability and more fully unlock the value of the Mesonet for the benefit of Kentuckians,” said Dr. Stuart Foster, state climatologist and director of the Kentucky Mesonet. “In the current budget environment, the traditional model of top-down funding from federal and state sources has not been a viable option. Instead, we have worked to build a bottom-up funding model by partnering with local governments to support the Mesonet stations in their counties.”

The real-time weather and climate data on temperature, precipitation, humidity, solar radiation, wind speed and direction collected by Mesonet stations is transmitted to the Kentucky Climate Center at WKU every five minutes, 24 hours per day, throughout the year and is available online at www.kymesonet.org.

Dr. Foster has been working with the Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association and through Kentucky’s Area Development Districts to reach out to judge-executives in counties that are home to Mesonet sites.

“In letters to county officials, we asked local governments to provide funding in the next fiscal year’s budget that WKU will match,” Dr. Foster said. “This model is one of shared responsibility between WKU and local governments.”

Five funding commitments from fiscal courts in Allen, Barren, Carroll, Logan and Ohio counties were received in the past week, he said.

Dr. Foster, who is waiting to hear from other county governments, also noted that the Kentucky Mesonet has received a corporate commitment from Keystone Foods to support the station in Clinton County.

“Keystone Foods values their role as a corporate citizen and sees supporting the Kentucky Mesonet as a way to support the community,” he said. “We’ve been very pleased with the results of our efforts and will continue to focus on building strong local partnerships,” he said.

One of the key partnerships in the Mesonet project has been with the National Weather Service offices in Kentucky, which use the data to help with forecasting especially during severe weather situations, Dr. Foster said.

“The Mesonet has fundamentally changed how the weather service performs its mission day in and day out,” said John Gordon, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Louisville. “We can look at all kinds of observation data that is used to save life and property each and every day.

“From temperatures during a winter weather mixed precipitation event to wind gusts during lines of severe thunderstorms to moisture levels during extreme fire danger, the Mesonet is a critical component for the National Weather Service to do our job,” Gordon said.

The Mesonet enhances both public safety and economic competitiveness at the local level. Indeed, Mesonet data support a variety of needs across Kentucky, including agriculture, education, emergency management, energy, engineering and construction, insurance, recreation, transportation and water supply management.

“It’s difficult to ask people for money,” Dr. Foster said. “But everybody is affected by the weather, and we know that the Mesonet brings value to people, so that makes it easier to ask.”

The Mesonet was initially funded with a $2.9 million federal grant for the Kentucky Climate Center, part of WKU’s Applied Research and Technology Program.

“Once we were awarded that grant we had two challenges for the project,” Dr. Foster said. “The first challenge was to design and configure the stations, identify monitoring sites and install the stations, build the computer systems necessary to operate the network, and develop the protocols for testing, calibrating, and maintaining the scientific instruments.

“The second challenge was to build a funding model to support the operation and maintenance of the stations and to provide the mechanism for the network to expand into other counties as opportunities arise,” he said. “We have worked with local governments from day one, as we sought to identify sites for Mesonet stations, and they continue to be our strongest supporters.”

Mesonet stations are located in Adair, Allen, Barren, Bath, Boone, Breathitt, Breckinridge, Bullitt, Caldwell, Calloway, Campbell, Carroll, Casey, Christian, Clark, Clinton, Crittenden, Cumberland, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton, Graves, Grayson, Hardin, Harrison, Hart, Henderson, Hopkins, Jackson, Johnson, Knott, Knox, LaRue, Lawrence, Letcher, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Mason, McLean, McCreary, Meade, Mercer, Metcalfe, Morgan, Muhlenberg, Nicholas, Ohio, Oldham, Owen, Owsley, Pike, Rowan, Shelby, Simpson, Taylor, Todd, Trigg, Union and Warren counties.

In addition to its strong public service component, the Mesonet helps to make Kentucky’s universities competitive for research grants. Dr. Rezaul Mahmood, associate director of the Mesonet, is seeking federal grants that would leverage the Mesonet’s data and infrastructure for weather and climate research.

“The Mesonet’s high quality data from sites across the state is a major selling point as we seek grants from the National Science Foundation, NOAA and others,” Dr. Mahmood said.

An aim of research using the Mesonet is to develop information products and tools that can be used to support decision making by farmers, water supply managers, emergency managers and others who engage in weather-sensitive activities.

“At the same time that federal support for weather and climate monitoring across the country has dwindled, the State of New York recently announced a commitment to build a statewide environmental monitoring network,” Dr. Foster said. “The value of weather and climate data is evident, but achieving economic sustainability of high-quality monitoring networks has proven difficult. Ultimately, a foundation of strong local partnerships to support the Kentucky Mesonet will help to enhance the quality of life for people in communities throughout the Commonwealth.”

Contact: Stuart Foster, (270) 745-5983.

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