Data Is Golden

2013-02-15 18:14:55.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist


Prior to working at the Mount Washington Observatory, I held jobs that dealt with Forensic Meteorology and Research Meteorology. A Forensic Meteorologist is someone that acquires data (weather reports, METAR’s, radar imagery, satellite imagery, local accounts, etc.) for a location and assists in interpreting the cause and effect that weather may have had in a particular case – such as a criminal investigation, insurance claim, death, etc. In a similar fashion, a Research Meteorologist is someone that acquires data either directly (by setting up instrumentation) or indirectly (like those listed above) and then taking that data to draw a conclusion to their thesis. While the two were different in many ways, they both held at least one thing in common – data; and the more data available, the better the results.

In both jobs, when subjects were near a well-populated area, it was a gold mine of data acquisition. There would usually be several weather stations to pull from, several news agencies to turn to, several eye witnesses to talk to, possible audio and visual resources, and a larger historical data set to look at for similar occurrences from the past. However, most of what I was doing was not in populated areas, which took me out of the gold mines and left me panning for gold by any means I could. In those cases, since there was rarely a station already in place, I either had to deploy a unit to gather data or start gathering data from as many neighboring resources as possible. And since most of my work was done in the rural parts of California, neighboring resources could sometimes be several hundred miles away. So, needless to say, I ended up with several binders and gigabytes of information just so I could whittle down the information to something that was usable and easy to understand. It was a lot of work but rewarding once the ‘Eureka!’ moment was met.

Now, keep in mind, all of this was back in the early 2000’s, so accessible weather data was nowhere near what it is like today. Home weather stations, similar to the ones we have available, were not nearly as affordable as they are now and days. While a few hundred dollars may still seem steep, back then, these stations were closer to $1000 each. So, it should be no surprise that online networks, like those seen through or elsewhere, were not nearly as robust as they are today. In a similar fashion, Mesonet networks were just an idea on paper for many. However, as profession grade networking and sensors became more affordable, schools and organizations started to put up Mesonet networks around the country. The first example of a real world Mesonet that I experienced was our Auto Road Vertical Profile and even then, it was one of only two or three available at that time. Since then, our network has expanded across the White Mountains and several other Mesonet networks have sprung up around the country, further filling in the gaps on a more localized scale.

Smartphones were a novelty and kind of a joke back then but now and days, they are in the hands of millions and are now being utilized in further filling in the gaps of weather data (The P.I.N.G. Project is a perfect example of an available app). And trained weather enthusiasts are starting to contribute more and more each day through programs like CoCoRaHS, SkyWarn or others around the country. It all makes me wonder what my work would have been like if all these methods were in place back then. Better yet, it makes me wonder what will come next for tracking, recording and better understanding the weather around us.


Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

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