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Rain or shine, Sakai weather station sees it

Sakai Intermediate School science teacher Doug Olson (left) and Bainbridge Island School District technical support specialist Price Court finishes mounting the new weather station atop Woodward Middle School Thursday. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Sakai Intermediate School science teacher Doug Olson (left) and Bainbridge Island School District technical support specialist Price Court finishes mounting the new weather station atop Woodward Middle School Thursday.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

A new system went up this week, with island weather now available online.

On an early morning on a Bainbridge roadway, a driver lost control of his car and someone died. The driver said the road was icy, but by the time police arrived on the scene, the temperature had warmed up.

Was the driver telling the truth?

The Sakai Intermediate School’s weather station provided the answer.

At the request of Bainbridge Police, Sakai science teacher Doug Olson brought sheafs of weather data to the station for the morning in question.

For icy roads, not only did the air temperature have to be below freezing, but a humidity of 100 percent was needed to reach the dewpoint that would produce frost on the road.

“I went to the police station with the data and sure enough, about an hour before the accident, it reached freezing and the dewpoint,” Olson said.

Since 1990, the weather station at Sakai Intermediate School, and now at Woodward has served students as a catalyst for learning, and the community as a resource.

A new system was installed this week for use by Sakai and Woodward school thanks to a grant from the Bainbridge Education Support Team, which has funded weather station upgrades over the years.

The new system was needed because although the school owned the equipment of the former system, the data was owned by the old provider, which streamed the data back to the schools. This year that company started asking schools to pay $1,500 to access the data they collected.

Besides the exorbitant cost that the schools couldn’t possibly support, Olson says he believes the data should be freely available to all.

“In exchange for the BEST. grant, I want to provide the service to the community as much as possible,” said Olson.

Using weather as a way to get students excited about science and other learning was a natural for Olson.

“I love storms,” said Olson, who teaches sixth grade. “As a child in Eastern Washington, when a thunderstorm approached in summer you could smell it before it arrived. When the lightning would start we would pull up lawn chairs and watch the lightning strike a radio tower in the wheatfield in front of our house. The electricity would travel down the guy wires and create huge sparks!

“That type of excitement for storms, whether wind, rain or thunderstorms has never waned.”

The new system, marketed as the Davis Vantage Pro 2, will allow the school to own its data.

Bainbridge weather data will soon be visible from the school district website at www.bainbridge.wednet.edu. The data will also be made available to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Weather sense

In class, Olson talks with students about how weather affects their families, as storms cause power outages, school closings and other disruptions.

Those interested in broadcasting prepare the daily weather forecast announced each day at school.

Olson puts the mathematically inclined to work generating statistics, graphing and looking for trends.

“The average overall temperature of Bainbridge Island from year to year is hardly ever more than 0.5 degrees different,” he said. “Students are amazed by that and it makes for a good discussion of why is it not more different from year to year?”

But learning about weather all begins with reliable data collection and measurements, which Olson points out is a critical skill for any science. Students also need to be able to look at data critically to see if it seems reasonable.

“The morning broadcasters know that what they say may be questioned if it doesn’t sound reasonable and it needs to be reliably available for every morning’s broadcast,” he said. “So the weather station ends up being a catalyst to involve students in many different skills and occupations.”

He regards the weather station’s data as a community resource for whoever may need the data.

Because the Puget Sound region has so many microclimates, data from Seattle or Bremerton doesn’t reflect conditions on Bainbridge. Annual rainfall for the north and south ends of the island differs by as much as 10 to 15 inches.

The school’s rainfall data helps the local public utility district create its regional chart of rainfall, indicates the likelihood of landslides to the city and signals runoff issues for construction companies.

Olson was once called on to provide data to allow scientists to find the center of a storm with his barometric pressure data.

An island homeowner called to get wind speed data because a tree on their property fell and the insurance company wouldn’t believe the wind was strong enough to cause it.

“I’ve always had a passion for the weather,” Olson said. “(With the weather station,) I think students at least get another exposure to how one’s passion can become lifelong and that becoming an adult does not mean you have to give up everything you might like as a kid.”

* * * * *

Weather bytes

Bainbridge weather statistics:

2005 average temperature (˚F): 50.6; 2005 average high temperature: 58.1; 2005 average low temperature: 43.1; 2005 total precipitation: 37.43 inches.

Rainfall for 2006 is already off to a roaring start with 22.34 inches of rain from Dec. 18, 2005, to Feb. 6, 2006, nearly two-thirds of a year’s average rainfall in just two months.

Source: Sixth-graders in Doug Olson’s exploratory science class at Sakai Intermediate School.

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