From Bowling Green to Bangladesh, the Kentucky Mesonet’s research improves climate understanding

Weather can affect a lot; it impacts crop production, public health, policy-making, even the clothes you select each day, and these are only a few. The Kentucky Mesonet, a network of automated weather and climate monitoring stations developed by the Kentucky Climate Center at Western Kentucky University, seeks to be a data resource for those within Kentucky, across the U.S. and even reaching internationally.

“When you look at climate, it is not just about temperature and precipitation averages, but you’re looking at droughts, flooding, heat waves, extreme cold or even wind chill exposure. We provide historical data and context to help people understand climate and how it might be important for their individual purposes,” said Stuart Foster, Kentucky State Climatologist since 2000, director of the Kentucky Mesonet and professor of geography at WKU.

Rezaul Mahmood, associate director of the Kentucky Mesonet and the Kentucky Climate Center, as well as WKU professor of geography and geology, describes the research of the Mesonet as ongoing to understand scientific atmospheric processes and mechanisms or different phenomena, as well as to use the data to aid policy makers.

“Think of the Kentucky Mesonet as a laboratory. Anyone who is interested in collecting data related to atmospheric variables, can utilize our resources,” said Mahmood. “Anytime a natural disaster happens, when communities go to legislators and ask for money, the legislators may ask, ‘I know this situation is bad, but how bad is it compared to…?’ Our research helps communities put these scenarios into context.”

Foster also desires the data to be used to identify the information needed to answer climate research questions. While his role focuses more on the business side of the Kentucky Mesonet, his background in quantitative and spatial analysis contributes to this goal.

“I’m especially interested in any projects that extract information from data in order to help accurately identify, convey trends and patterns of variability in our climate,” said Foster. “Then people can have a better understanding of our climate and make better decisions based on this information.”

Mahmood is also editor-in-chief of Earth Interactions, a scientific journal and joint publication of the American Meteorological Society, American Geophysical Union, and American Association of Geographers. He noted that the Kentucky Mesonet’s research on land and atmospheric interaction is also done in collaboration with colleagues at other U.S. universities and even in other countries such as Bangladesh, China and Mexico.

“Recently, my students conducted research on historical droughts in Kentucky during the 20th and more recently, 21st centuries and how this impacted not only productivity, but particularly revenue generations in the area of agriculture, which is one of the largest economic sectors in the state” Mahmood said.

The Kentucky Mesonet includes 68 stations across the state with plans in-the-works for stations 69 and 70.

“We’re trying to develop a business strategy that will help the Kentucky Mesonet to be both agile and resilient,” said Foster. “Our goal is to not only create something unique that works in Kentucky, but could also be taken elsewhere. We have even had an interest in partnerships with those existing networks in neighboring states.”

Kentucky Mesonet’s expanding sponsorship

Within the Kentucky Mesonet’s development strategy is a sponsorship program. Foster notes the purpose is to help support the ongoing maintenance of individual stations across Kentucky.

“In return for this sponsorship, we can provide enhanced value by developing a local weather portal. It is a website that is targeted specifically for residents in a county, that provides detailed Mesonet information, but also links information from the National Weather Service and other sources about weather and climate specific to their community,” said Foster.

In February 2017, the Kentucky Mesonet signed an agreement with WEVV-TV (CBS/Fox 44) in Evansville, Indiana to provide weather and climate data for viewers in that area.

“We provide data at no cost to TV media that want to use data from the Kentucky Mesonet on their weather broadcast,” said Foster. This benefits both the local stations and the Kentucky Mesonet, and gets the word out about the research happening at WKU.”

Foster shared that they have partnerships with WBKO and WMKY in Bowling Green and also work with TV stations in the Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky markets, as well as the northern Kentucky markets close to Cincinnati.

Mahmood emphasized that the Kentucky Mesonet, this environment for collecting atmospheric data, offers multiple opportunities for collaboration.

“When your research involves weather and climate as a factor, which impacts everybody in one way or another, then our infrastructure is a key resource,” Mahmood said.

Interested in finding out more about the Kentucky Mesonet and how your industry could benefit?

Contact Dr. Stuart Foster at:
stuart.foster@wku.edu
Phone number: 270-745-5983

Dr. Rezaul Mahmood at:
Rezaul.mahmood@wku.edu
Phone number: 270-745-5979