What's the weather like at your house?
When Lake Oswego's maintenance crews need to determine whether to start de-icing roads, they check local weather conditions — but not the ones offered by television forecasters or online weather services.
Instead, they turn to the city's own network of real-time monitoring stations.
The six stations are spread throughout Lake Oswego and collect a wide range of data, including rain, humidity, temperature and wind conditions. Some of stations are more specialized, with additional sensors to detect solar radiation, soil moisture and snow levels.
And all of that data is available for the public to view on the city's website at www.ci.oswego.or.us/publicworks/weather-stations-and-climate-information.
The stations are primarily the brainchild of Kevin McCaleb, Lake Oswego's water conservation specialist, who worked to get them installed eight years ago and recalibrates them each year to make sure they stay accurate.
"When I got here in 2008, there was a desire to have some sort of real-time weather monitoring device, and so I had experience with that and I suggested the Campbell Scientific (brand)," he says. "It was part of our state water conservation requirement."
The project received a green light from the City Council, and the first two stations were installed in 2010 at the municipal golf course and the Westlake fire station. The other four were installed in 2012, with the first three at City Hall, Marylhurst and the Public Works Operations Center.
McCaleb says the goal was to create a grid of stations throughout the city so that they could be used to track the progress of incoming weather phenomena. It also allows for more personalized results — visitors to the website can enter their address to locate the station closest to them.
The fourth station was initially installed at Cooks Butte, but due to telemetry problems at the site, it was eventually moved to the top of Nansen Summit in the Mountain Park neighborhood. That change ended up being beneficial, McCaleb says, because the summit is the highest point in Lake Oswego and usually the first place to experience freezing conditions.
"We installed a video monitor up there and a snow monitor that will record levels and predict frost," he says.
As a result, officials say the summit station has become the go-to source of information for city maintenance staff during winter storms, giving crews an early warning so they can respond quickly when icy conditions start to arise.
"I can view the weather station feeds at home during the night to see if we need to get anybody in if it's icing up — it's really handy for that," says Street Maintenance Superintendent Jim Bateman. "You can check and see what the temperature change is up at Nansen Summit to see if we need to apply magnesium chloride de-icer."
The stations at the golf course and Westlake fire station also carry specialized equipment for monitoring soil moisture and solar radiation. Officials can use those readings to calculate the amount of evapotranspiration taking place, which refers to the combined amount of water being pulled out of the ground by evaporation and plant transpiration.
"That gives us a calculation of how much water we need to put back in, just like a gas gauge on a car telling you your tank is empty," McCaleb says. "We put a lot of whistles and bells on the first two (stations) because it's important for proper watering."
The two soil moisture sensors are placed at separate depths in order to provide readings for different kinds of plants, McCaleb says. The Westlake sensor is 12 inches deep, which gives a better reading for trees and large plants, and the golf course sensor is 6 inches deep, providing a customized report for turf. In either case, if the water saturation level becomes too low, it's time to start watering.
"If you think of soil like a sponge, we can carry about 45 percent water, typically, with our heavy clay soil," McCaleb says. "If people see more than 45 percent water, then it's saturated and they don't need to add anything."
Most of the city's irrigation systems are connected to the weather stations and will automatically turn on or off based on soil conditions. And McCaleb says that any resident can usually rely on the data to determine whether to water their own yard. Even though there are only two moisture sensors, he says, Lake Oswego has a fairly uniform soil consistency throughout the city, so the saturation levels tend to be fairly uniform as well.
"It will also tell us the temperature of the soil, which is beneficial for those who want to plant," he says.
The stations update their readings once per minute, and all those results are automatically downloaded into an archive that stretches all the way back to 2010. McCaleb says those records have become useful as well, because the city sometimes gets data requests from the Lake Oswego Corporation and even organizations from outside the city.
The stations have also proven to be quite popular among Lake Oswego's residents. According to McCaleb, the station feed page sees hundreds of hits per day and is one of the highest-traffic areas of the city's website.
The station at the public works site had to be removed last year during construction of the new Operations and Maintenance Center. Unfortunately, the new building's design doesn't leave an ideal location for the equipment, so Public Works Director Anthony Hooper says staff are planning to reinstall it at the Jean Road fire station instead.
"It can't be near a lot of asphalt, and there are some other conditions," he says.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.