PLYMOUTH, N.H. – Anyone who’s driven by Plymouth Airport recently has probably noticed the 30-foot-high steel tower looming over the cornfields of Longview Farm. The structure is part of a sophisticated automated weather observing system (AWOS), online since September 21 after two years of planning and coordinating among Plymouth State University, the Town of Plymouth Airport management, Longview Farm the FAA and FCC.
AWOS is a system of sensors and communication ports that provides automatic, accurate and continuous weather information. It is designed to measure, collect and disseminate weather data to help meteorologists, pilots and flight dispatchers prepare and monitor weather forecasts, plan flight routes and provide necessary information for correct takeoffs and landings. It provides minute-to-minute updates of weather parameters such as wind speed and direction, temperature and dew point, visibility, cloud heights and cloud cover, barometric pressure and precipitation amount. AWOS can even delineate precipitation types such as snow, sleet and rain, and has a thunder storm monitor with a lightning indicator. While AWOS doesn’t predict weather, it does send current information to weather offices where forecasts are produced using this information, along with computer model outputs, satellite photos, radar images, etc.
Project coordinator and PSU Professor of Meteorology Joe Zabransky explains, “For years there has been a need for this kind of weather monitoring in central New Hampshire. In winter, we often noticed Plymouth precipitation was of a different type than would occur at either Lebanon or Laconia. Now that the AWOS has been in place for a couple of months, we have seen how much cold air pooling occurs in the Baker Valley. On several days during the past three weeks, Plymouth Airport has been the coldest recording station in the state, including Mount Washington Observatory. The Baker Valley often remains cold as warm air is transported northward over the state. This sets up conditions for freezing rain or sleet in Plymouth, while Lebanon and Laconia experience rain.”
The AWOS project was funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Once grant funds were received the project was another year and a half from contract to FAA certification. Much of this time was spent processing the required paper work between FAA and FCC. At the Plymouth site, data are transmitted from the sensors to the computer system in the terminal building. From there pilots and other users can access current data by VHF radio at 118.45 Mhz, or by dialing in at 536-1698. Data are also up-linked via satellite for access by FAA, NOAA and the National Weather Service (NWS). Plymouth State downloads the data from the NWS in order to make the information available on its Web site vortex.plymouth.edu. Plymouth State meteorology students receive the benefit of having data available locally from a state-of-the-art automated weather station.
Says Zabransky, “This project represents a major joint effort. The assistance of my colleague, Brendon Hoch (meteorologist and information technologist) was very much appreciated. Plymouth State could not have accomplished the installation without the cooperation of town officials, John Perkins of Longview Farm who agreed to remove nearly a thousand feet of trees from his property so the project would be in compliance with FAA ordinances, and Norm Smith, manager of Plymouth Municipal Airport. As a result, AWOS is a win-win situation for PSU meteorology students, the town of Plymouth and the area.”