Delray Beach has 4 WeatherSTEM stations to track real-time weather

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DELRAY BEACH – Residents can now watch the storm from their homes.

The last of four WeatherSTEM stations will soon be installed in Delray Beach. The solar-powered technology, designed by Edward Mansouri, monitors the region’s weather in real time – a feature previously unavailable to meteorologists who rely on National Weather Service forecasts and radars.

Now, measurements are taken across the city, allowing for accurate updates on factors such as temperature, humidity, lightning and rain accumulation. Each station is connected to the Internet via cellular modems and has a built-in camera, allowing snapshots to be taken once a minute and streamed online.

“It’s one thing to know it’s 90 degrees,” Mansouri said. “It’s another thing to be able to see dark clouds overhead, or clear blue skies or foggy conditions.”

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In addition to having a streaming site, each station is integrated with social media. Once a station is set up, it automatically has its own Facebook and Twitter pages, where forecasts, alerts and photos from the cameras of the device are displayed throughout the day.

The importance of diffusing these conditions is magnified during tropical storms and hurricanes, but also before they landfall. Often people are outside putting up their homes, tying up furniture and taking their classes in anticipation of a storm. With these systems, dangerous conditions will appear – also crucial for determining when winds have died down safely enough for first responders.

Stations can withstand wind gusts up to 185 mph. But when the winds are too strong, it is safer to have clear roads.

“At some point we will stop responding to calls in the most severe part of a storm,” said Delray Beach emergency manager Chris Bell. “It will really help us keep our first responders on the roads for as long as possible and get them back, after a storm, as quickly as possible to help.”

Why the need for a WeatherSTEM system in Florida?

Currently, there are three hurricane-resistant WeatherSTEM systems in Delray Beach, including two on the beach and one located at Fire Station 115 on Germantown Road. These were fitted in the spring. The fourth was installed Wednesday at Fire Station 111 in the northwest corner of the city. This will provide coverage for the majority of the area, with the beaches providing some of the southernmost imagery in Florida that, during a storm, would yield the first camera scans from any of the state’s WeatherSTEM stations.

“So no matter which direction a storm is hitting us from, we would be able to get the best information,” Bell said.

Across the state, there are more than 150 of these state-funded stations, built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and the power outages that come with them. In total, there are 404 WeatherSTEM locations in Florida, but not all of them are hurricane-hardened.

After Hurricane Michael hit in October 2019, the need for more accurate weather data, especially near the Florida coastline, became apparent. That’s when Mansouri — a meteorologist who had created WeatherSTEM as an educational tool when he was managing technology at Florida Virtual School — partnered with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, or FDEM, to build and distribute them in the whole state.

“There were some pretty significant data gaps,” Mansouri said of the information gathered when Hurricane Michael swept through Florida. These shortcomings translated into a slower response time to understanding the severity of the storm. “The more we understand about the storm, the better prepared we can be to protect municipalities and citizens in future storms.”

For this reason, much of WeatherSTEM’s first year of alliance with FDEM focused on the Florida Panhandle. But before that, Mansouri had actually donated less sophisticated versions of the devices to public schools in Florida’s 67 counties. Although these were not reinforced to withstand high hurricane-force winds, they provided school officials and students with educational tools about the area’s weather and were a great help for students. sports programs.

The idea originated when Mansouri discussed science classes at a meeting for Florida Virtual School. He noticed that no high school meteorology courses were offered and found this strange.

“Our two biggest economies are agriculture and tourism,” Mansouri said of Florida. “You can’t name anything that impacts these industries more than the weather.”

This year marks the fourth of the partnership between WeatherSTEM and FDEM.

How much does a WeatherSTEM system cost and who pays?

For the past three fiscal years, the Florida Legislature has allocated $970,000 per year for devices, allowing for the installation of 50 devices per year. The first three years of support service are also covered by the state, provided the government agency receiving the units agrees to pay for four to ten years of maintenance thereafter.

Each WeatherSTEM device costs around $15,000, with an annual maintenance fee of $1,900. This year, the state appropriation for the devices is $971,400, said FDEM Director of Communications and External Affairs Amelia Johnson.

Mansouri hopes the partnership with FDEM will last 10 years. By the end of those 10 years, 500 of the hurricane-hardened WeatherSTEM systems would be in place.

Jasmine Fernández is a journalist and covers Delray Beach and Boca Raton at the Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jasminefernandz. Help support our work. Subscribe today.

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