A strong storm is roaring over the Chattanooga Memorial Airport. Rain is heavy; lightning is constant; winds are high.
The airport is about eight miles from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Weather on campus isn’t as bad, but it might turn bad. Or it might not.
“During severe weather events, conditions can vary greatly over a distance of just one mile,” said Tim Pridemore, emergency management coordinator for the University.
“Currently, our information on weather conditions on campus actually comes from National Weather Service data collected at the Chattanooga Airport.”
It’s one reason a weather station was recently installed on the roof of Lupton Hall. Similar stations are being installed statewide on campuses of the University of Tennessee system.
The UTC station will pinpoint weather that’s occurring on campus or is very close, Pridemore said. It will provide such data as temperature, wind speed and direction, rainfall and the amount of lightning.
“Having our own, campus-specific information will help us understand what is happening,” he said.
“While, ultimately, the conditions here on campus drive our minute-to-minute decisions, the larger picture is what drives our preparation and planning. This system will help improve the information we use for both,” Pridemore said.
Real-time data from the station makes it possible to “monitor the safety of outdoor events,” he said.
“It will give us a better ability to monitor changes as they approach us. Knowing what is happening upstream in a weather event helps us prepare for the event when it arrives on campus.
“For example, in the short term, the local lightning detection allows us to know when we need to pause outdoor activities such as sports practice sessions, while longer-horizon decisions such as taking action based on high winds are helped by knowing more about what is happening upstream in the weather.”
Beyond UTC, data from the weather station will be shared with the Hamilton County and Tennessee emergency management agencies and the emergency management team for the UT System.
“This will help everyone develop a clearer common-operating picture of weather conditions over a large area,” Pridemore said.