Countless areas across the country are exposed to the lack of instrumentation data and lack of radar coverage. They are usually less populated areas, but they are also vital for forecasting possible severe weather events and can help gather data for weather research. This is where a rather interesting weather instrument comes into play: the mobile mesonet.
A mobile mesonet is a mobile HUB for weather data, fixed with numerous weather instruments such as an anemometer, wind vane, GPS, temperature sensor, humidity sensor and pressure sensor. As pictured above, all of these instruments are attached to an SUV. Within the SUV, there are three computer monitors each connected to WIFI within the vehicle and directly connected to the data that is being collected with the use of the instruments. Also, HAM radios are installed for cross-communication with other people in the field. Each seat, besides the driver, is equipped with said computer monitors. With each seat, comes a different role. The passenger seat is the navigator and radar observer. This person’s job is to navigate the driver while also keeping an eye on the radar for potential weather that can be relevant to the mission. Rear driver-side is the data collector. This person keeps an eye on the data and makes sure it is being collected properly and stored in the right manner. Rear passenger is the field note keeper. This person keeps a running log of any field notes while on a deployment. Also, this person can aide the passenger-seat while observing the radar.
Central Michigan University received one of these mesonets in June 2019 for research in boundary layer meteorology, more specifically in lake breeze fronts. Conducted by Dr. Jason Keeler of Central Michigan University, the goal of CMU-STORM was to intercept lake breeze fronts and observe how they interact with localized weather. Also, to teach students on how to utilize instruments for meteorology research. Hence the name STORM, which actually stands for Student Training for Observational Research in Meteorology. With Lake Michigan to the west of Central Michigan’s campus, this was an ideal area for this research.
CMU-STORM deployed over a two-week period in July. From Traverse City, MI to Three Oaks, MI, the STORM team traversed up and down the Lake Michigan coastline gathering data on boundary layer meteorology. Numerous lake breeze fronts were observed and logged using the data from the instruments. Interactions between these lake breeze fronts and local weather were observed and logged using the weather instruments. Being able to exist in the medium that was being studied brought the team closer to what they wanted to accomplish, all while gathering rare meteorological phenomena.
During one of the deployments, a storm system made its way through central Michigan, bringing heavy rain, frequent cloud-to-ground lighting and strong winds. This storm system was tapping into the warm and moist air in the region. Theta-E, which is a measurement of the stability of the air, is directly related to temperature and dew point. As temperature and dew point goes up, so does Theta-E. A little known weather phenomena called Mesoscale Air mass with High Theta-E (MAHTE) was observed during this deployment. This is an area of meteorology which needs more research to accurately understand it. Essentially, a MAHTE occurs when the cool side of an air mass boundary has more instability than the warm side of the air mass. Typically, the warm side of the air mass has more instability than the cool side. This is because warm and moist air is typically more unstable than cooler air. This rare occurrence can result in storms being produced in areas where storms wouldn’t typically grow. Like said above, MAHTEs need more research and data for they are still a relatively unknown meteorological feature.
CMU-STORM presented data that couldn’t be found anywhere else or with any other instrument. Essentially, the mesonet was the pencil connecting the dots between weather stations filling in gray areas. The mesonet is a vital tool for forecasting and being able to see areas that are not represented with a weather station. The data collected from the deployment is still being observed and utilized for a better knowledge in boundary layer meteorology, especially research concerning MAHTE.
For updates and more information on CMU-STORM, stayed tuned because CMU-STORM 2 launches this summer 2020 in June and July.
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©2020 Weather Forecaster Alec Kownacki