FAIRMONT — Through a new contract with the National Weather Service’s National Mesonet Program, Global Science & Technology Inc. is on a mission to save lives and protect property during high impact weather events. On Feb. 22, GST learned that it had won a seven-month, $7.4 million contract from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service for the National Mesonet Program.
The contract officially began on Monday, and GST hopes to be awarded another year of funding on Oct. 1 when the federal government’s new fiscal year begins, said Brian Bell, vice president of innovation for GST and senior project manager for the new contract.
“This is amazing, it really is,” he said. “It’s a very humbling place to be.”
Bell explained that in 2008 the National Academy of Sciences identified a real gap in local-scale weather observations, and the National Mesonet Program was started to address that issue. This is the third year GST has been involved in the National Mesonet Program.
“We’re very thrilled to be a part of it, watching this program evolve, and providing value-added data for the
National Weather Service (and the federal government),” he said.
Bell said the National Mesonet Program, headquartered at the GST Innovation Lab in Fairmont’s Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center, is now extending the National Weather Service’s network and bringing additional observational data into the system. To reduce the competitive atmosphere for this new contract, GST formed the largest weather alliance in the world and carefully identified private partners — both universities and companies — that operate surface- based observation networks, or mesonets, he said. As part of the National Mesonet Program Alliance, these partners can leverage the existing investment that has been made in observing weather phenomenon, Bell said. Each member of this strong alliance has a unique observation network and provides different assets that the federal government doesn’t necessarily have. In addition to GST, the entities that are involved include EarthNetworks Inc., WeatherFlow Inc., Weather Telematics Inc., University of Utah, University of Oklahoma, University of Delaware, Rutgers, North Carolina State University, Coastal Carolina University, Texas Tech University, University of Missouri, University of Illinois, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of South Alabama, and Kansas State University.
2011 set a historic precedence in terms of severe weather impacting the economy and taking so many lives. This alliance, through its high-quality observation networks, will help improve predictions for severe storms and weather events that have the potential to cause loss of life and property, Bell said. He said the National Weather Service looks at weather through satellites, Doppler radar and fixed weather stations, which provide a good regional perspective. Those fixed weather stations are often located at airports, but a lot of weather happens in between the airports and at the local scale. The information that the National Mesonet Program collects from its observations supplements the data that the National Weather Service already has so that the best decisions can be made, Bell said.
“It really does bring the observations down to a local level,” he said. “With our mobile network in place, that also adds a unique flavor.”
Bell is referring to GST’s Mobile Platform Environmental Data, or MoPED, system for the National Weather Service.
Paul Heppner, program manager and meteorologist for GST, explained that GST started with prototypes and demonstrated that instruments on a truck or bus could could take meaningful observations and provide that information to the National Weather Service through computer systems. A year ago, about a dozen prototype vehicles were doing very basic sampling, and now more than 1,000 trucks are in this network taking basic weather observations and passing them to the National Weather Service. The mobile platforms fill in the gaps between the fixed stations and can identify areas of fog/precipitation and cold pockets. The MoPED system will continue to grow and mature, he said. Heppner said the second part of the National Mesonet Program that GST is involved in is getting data and metadata from the non-federal, fixed-site mesonets around the country, including basic information about the weather stations and the sensors and equipment used. This allows the National Weather Service to decide how to best use the stations. The National Weather Service gets a denser look at what’s going on through the information that the small mesonets and the mobile platforms obtain, he said. The contract that the company just won recognizes the work that the team has done over the past few years and is gratifying, Heppner said. GST will continue to advance those efforts and meet the needs of the National Weather Service through the new contract, which is a growth opportunity for the National Mesonet Program. Heppner, who is based in New Jersey but periodically works in Fairmont, said the GST staff at the Innovation Lab examines the data, studies the trends and patterns, and communicates that information to the National Weather Service in a very effective way.
“We really do work as a team,” he said.
Email Jessica Borders at jborders@ timeswv.com.