NRCC making regional climate services and weather data available for over 40 years

By: Erin Philipson

As many are all too aware, changing climate conditions impact our lives in many ways. The Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) has been making regional climate services and weather data available and accessible to the public for over 40 years. 

The NRCC was the first regional climate center in the country and was used as a test to see if these types of centers were viable.

“I think we proved our usefulness,” says Keith Eggleston ’82, a regional climatologist in the NRCC and graduate of the atmospheric sciences program at Cornell University. “So now quite a bit later, we're firmly established in the climatological computing community, and people respect us and the products that we put out.”

The NRCC is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is part of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University. Art DeGaetano, professor in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences has directed the center since 2001.

Since the start of the NRCC in the 1980’s, they have been making climate data more attainable and providing a space to make informed decisions based on this data. “At the beginning, the NRCC provided ideas of how to start using this data to make decisions in agriculture, transportation, engineering design, or things like that,” says DeGaetano. “And then, as we got more sophisticated, and were able to provide programs and websites for our customers. We could really address what pieces of information they needed.”

The programs developed by staff in the NRCC go beyond the basic data and provide answers to more complicated questions that provide insight for numerous sectors including transportation, resiliency and hazard planning, architecture and sustainable energy.

The weather data provided is crucial to a range of activities, from determining the snow load for architects developing new buildings to taking daily temperature and rainfall data and developing an irrigation scheduler for the agriculture industry.

One major project that the NRCC has worked on is providing data to predict roadway freezing and thawing across the Northern tier of states. In seasonal frost areas, as freezing occurs the road becomes stiffer and stronger. Many state Departments of Transportation take advantage of the period of higher strength in mid-winter by applying winter weight premiums, increasing the allowable weight that trucks can haul. During late winter and early spring when the top road layers begin thawing and can’t drain excess water, the road is highly susceptible to damage. To reduce roadway damage, many highway agencies apply spring load restrictions during the critical time interval when the pavement is most vulnerable to damage.

The NRCC provides these agencies with a five-day forecast that allows for planning of winter weight premiums. “Highway agencies are really interested in the forecast, because they have to be able to determine ahead of time when the roads are going to be closed and when they're going to be posted,” says Eggleston.

Another project, supported by Cornell’s Atkinson Center for Sustainability, provides data to monitor the risk of mosquito vector diseases. The study integrates the expertise of climatologists, entomologists, risk communication experts, and public health and vector control professionals to develop a system for predicting and monitoring risk of mosquito vectors, West Nile virus transmission, and human health risk that will be readily usable by public health professionals for decision-making. The NRCC supplies data on both temperature and rainfall, then provides estimates of the number of mosquito eggs and when they will hatch.

The NRCC provides data for the fruit industry to monitor apple frost risk. They have developed a degree day model that estimates what stage the apple trees are in, from budding to full bloom. Maps are then produced with this information and are used in conjunction with historical temperature data to determine when frosts are most likely to occur.

This information is extremely important to the fruit industry because early frosts can be very damaging to the apple crop depending on what stage the trees are in. With this data, farmers can take measures to prevent damage to the trees like spraying them to protect against the frost.

The NRCC funding was recently renewed by NOAA for another 5 years.

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