Got weather? In central Virginia the answer is "yes"! Charlottesville is vulnerable to a variety of natural disasters every season of the year, and the category "natural hazards" appears among the top risks in UVA's annual hazard vulnerability assessment. From high winds to flooding, from snow and ice to excessive heat, each season brings its own propensity for hazardous weather conditions that could threaten human life or impact University operations.
The effect of hazardous weather on University operations could be as widespread as downed power lines or as targeted as lightning that triggers evacuation of outdoor events. Emergency managers are tasked with planning how to protect lives and assets and to restore services as quickly as possible in all these scenarios. Having access to accurate current weather data is critical.
As part of their job, emergency management staff in the UVA Office of Emergency Management monitor weather data from a variety of sources including the National Weather Service and private contract meteorologists. Increasingly, however, UVA is also gleaning localized weather data from WeatherSTEM, an online platform that displays more than a dozen meteorological data points from weather stations.
UVA installed its first WeatherSTEM stations and sky cameras in 2016 at Scott Stadium and The Park. In Spring 2022, a third weather station and sky camera were positioned at Bryan Hall near the Lawn. A stand-alone sky camera was also placed atop UVA's multistory office building at 2420 Old Ivy Road, facing southwest where much of Charlottesville’s weather rolls in across the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“Local real time data from the weather stations are especially critical in Charlottesville, where being in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains makes accurate weather predictions challenging,” says John DeSilva, director of Emergency Management at UVA.
Coupled with a sky camera, WeatherSTEM provides real-time weather data and live video feed at strategic points on Grounds. Local data have helped keep people and property on Grounds safe in unexpected ways. Starting in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University constructed several outdoor tents as an alternative to indoor spaces. These tents could not be safely occupied during certain weather conditions, including severe thunderstorms and other high wind events. UVA Emergency Management and UVA Facilities Management collaboratively monitored extremely localized, real-time wind data provided by WeatherSTEM to inform decisions on temporarily restricting occupancy.
WeatherSTEM stations provide real-time updates on an array of critical weather data, including:
- rain rate and rainfall
- temperature and humidity
- heat index
- wind chill
- wind speed and direction
- solar and UVA radiation
- wet bulb globe temperature
WeatherSTEM’s mission to provide a platform that ties together health, safety, athletics, social media and education is reflected in its name: a combination of the obvious word “weather” with STEM (the well-known acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The platform provides open public access to data that WeatherSTEM stations provide; a boon to local jurisdictions, schools, and sport organizations seeking weather conditions in their region.
“A major benefit of our WeatherSTEM sites is that they are a community resource,” said DeSilva. “WeatherSTEM has expanded not only UVA’s ability to monitor local weather in real time, but also the ability of anyone in Charlottesville or Albemarle County.” The data, including the national lightning map associated with WeatherSTEM, are available to everyone without cost.
UVA’s WeatherSTEM station at the Park streams in real time at uvaemergency.virginia.edu. Anyone who wants to see the full array of UVA weather stations can visit https://albemarle.weatherstem.com.
And of course, there is an app for that!