At first glance, Al Mieger’s home does not appear any different from the other attractive homes that line his street.
Upon closer examination though, an observer may spot an unusual appurtenance rising from the peak of his roof. The spinning object – which is barely noticeable – is an anemometer.
The anemometer, a device used for measuring wind speed, is the only obvious sign that a weather enthusiast resides within the walls of Mieger’s home.
INTRIGUED BY WEATHER
Mieger, an information technology professional, was not always a weather guru.
A former resident of sunny Southern California, Mieger moved to Snellville in the fall of 2000. It was not long before Mieger became intrigued with Georgia’s varied and sometimes violent weather.
“Interesting enough, it was quite a change from the weather in California,” Mieger said. “Thunderstorms, hail, ice, wind – all those sorts of things we don’t really experience there.”
The ever changing weather fascinated Mieger and within eight months of moving to Georgia, Mieger acquired his first weather station.
“I started getting interested in it and I developed a web site,” he said.
The site, which focused on Snellville weather, remained in operation until Mieger moved to Barrow County in mid-2007.
After the move, Mieger switched his attention to Barrow County weather and created barrowcountyweather.
com. Since the move, Mieger’s interest – and investment – in weather watching has grown.
Mieger’s operation is completely self-funded. In addition to purchasing a weather station, Mieger has added a lightning detection system and several pieces of software to improve his weather monitoring capabilities.
Altogether, Mieger estimates he has approximately $1,600 invested in hardware, $2,500 to $3,000 in software as well as recurring monthly costs for internet access, web hosting and a weather aggregator.
Though technically a hobby, Mieger readily admits he is more than a casual weather enthusiast.
“I do like to think of it as a semiprofessional endeavor,” he said.
NUTS AND BOLTS
Mieger uses a Davis Vantage Pro II weather station to collect meteorological data for his weather web site.
To look at the equipment Mieger has amassed, “semi-professional” would hardly seem to be an adequate descriptor. Mieger’s office – or more accurately command center – contains several computers, a large server, a weather radio and other equipment designed to provide the accurate, up to date, meteorological data.
His weather station, a Davis Vantage Pro II, includes a rain collector, temperature and humidity sensors, anemometer, solar radiation sensor, UV sensor and solar panel.
Mieger also has what he believes may be the county’s only lightning detection system, the Boltek Storm Tracker.
Barrowcountyweather.com also utilizes StormVue interactive software which allows visitors to the site to track the intensity and direction of thunderstorms moving through the area.
Each day, Mieger’s site automatically generates local forecasts using the WXSIM - Local Atmospheric Modeling System. The modeling system combines data collected by Mieger’s station with other available data to create accurate weather predictions.
Data collected by Mieger’s weather station is also transmitted to the NWS. This data includes temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction and wind gusts.
“There’s thousands of people like me all across the country,” Mieger said. “Our data is collected and ends up making its way to the National Weather Service and they use that in forecasting models.”
Mieger’s interest in the weather has extended beyond simply maintaining a weather web site and collecting meteorological data. Mieger has put his weather station to good use as Barrow County’s Skywarn coordinator.
Weather data is gathered through several pieces of equipment including this one mounted in Mieger’s back yard.
Since the late 1960s, the National Weather Service (NWS) has operated the Skywarn program.
Skywarn utilizes “storm spotters” to report on the ground weather conditions including wind gusts, hail size, rainfall and cloud formations that could signal a developing tornado. This information is provided to the National Weather Service for use in issuing alerts to the general public.
Storm spotters are organized by the NWS and emergency management agencies within communities.
After moving to Barrow, Mieger met Jackson County’s Skywarn coordinator Eddie Gilbert. After learning of Mieger’s interest in the weather, Gilbert asked him to assume the post of Barrow County Skywarn coordinator.
As Skywarn coordinator, Mieger organizes training for would-be storm spotters and works with local public safety and emergency management groups to keep people informed of hazardous weather situations.
Currently, there are about 60 trained storm spotters in Barrow County, Mieger said.
These spotters may be “activated” by the NWS during times of severe weather. Mieger said typically notifications go out in the form of emails or text messages and it is up to the individual spotters to monitor their messages and respond with the information radar alone cannot provide.
Doppler radar can see the horizon, but cannot see ground activity, Mieger explained.
“They may see what looks like a severe thunderstorm or the hook of a tornado, but they have no idea whether it is actually on the ground,” Mieger said.
Storm spotters are used to fill in the blanks. Spotters will notify the NWS if a tornado has actually touched down, if dangerous hail is falling or if other hazardous conditions exist.
“That’s how the National Weather Service knows what’s happening on the ground,” Mieger said. “They can’t tell otherwise.”
The next Skywarn class will be held in January of 2010. In September, Mieger will open registration for the class. Prospective storm spotters will receive two hours of training from a National Weather Service meteorologist and will then become part of the Skywarn network of storm spotters.
As part of his duties as Skywarn coordinator, Mieger also operates www. barrowcountyskywarn.net. Though the site is recognized by the Barrow County Emergency Management Agency, it receives no public funding.
“I get no money from anybody,” Mieger said.
As with his weather web site, Mieger owns and operates www.barrowcountyskywarn. net as a public service to the citizens of Barrow County. He also owns and operates www.tricountyARC. com, a web site for amateur radio operators in Hall, Jackson and Barrow counties. The Tri-County Amateur Radio Club was organized to assist with communications in times of emergency and works with Skywarn and local Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).
Mieger recently upgraded his Barrow County weather site to provide a more attractive, accessible look.
The main data categories such as temperature, humidity and precipitation are on the home page along with links to forecasts, alerts, a detailed weather almanac and much more.
The web site is updated approximately every ten seconds in order to provide real time weather data.
“It’s local, it’s real time and it’s 24/7,” Mieger said. “When you look at weather forecasts on the weather channel, they’re being generated from data that’s usually forecasted by a National Weather Service office based upon whatever information they’re able to gather.”
This information often includes data from local airports, which for Barrow County residents, is more likely to refer to the Atlanta airport than the county’s own facility resulting in a less accurate local forecast.
“My system, as far as the forecasting is concerned, is generated with local data,” he said. “It’s real time local weather. That’s the big thing.”
For up to date weather information, visit Mieger’s site at www.barrowcountyweather.com.