Chem-Physics building ‘weathers’ every storm

Feb 3rd, 2012

Kelly Foss

Jack Foley
Chem-Physics building ‘weathers’ every storm

It’s one of Memorial University’s best-kept secrets. High up on the roof of the Chemistry-Physics building, a portable station quietly keeps track of this province’s favourite subject: the weather.

Jack Foley is an oceanographic technician with the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography. He put the first weather station up on the roof back in 2004 as a test.

Faculty members and students use similar equipment in the field as part of their research. Monitoring ocean currents also means monitoring wind speeds. Rather than having unused equipment left idle on a shelf, it was decided to try a station out on the roof. The department found it so convenient being able to monitor minute-by-minute weather there’s been one up there ever since.

“Every 10 seconds the station collects data from its sensors and that data is averaged over 10 minutes,” explained Mr. Foley. “It is then sent wirelessly to a receiver that passes it on to a computer which displays it graphically on a website.”

The current station is approximately two years old and is powered by a solar panel and a battery. It measures wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, dew point, ambient light and rain rate. Graphs show the data from the last five days and a barometer gives an indication of what is yet to come. An almanac also gives data on sun/moon rise and set times as well as the current phase of the moon.

Mr. Foley says the weather station is accurate with one minor exception.

“When meteorologists measure wind speed and direction, it’s from a sensor on a 10 meter pole with no obstructions nearby,” he said. “Unfortunately, our weather station is slightly blocked to the east and those readings are less accurate.”

Even with that minor detail, meteorologists in the province have been known to refer to Memorial’s weather station data. Mr. Foley says wind speeds are particularly of interest. They went as high as160 km/h during Hurricane Igor.

"The winds up there can be very strong,” he said. “You couldn’t stand up in that kind of wind and we have to use lead bricks to keep the station anchored.”
Weather watchers should "anchor" a webpage bookmark on the live weather site for more information. It can be found at


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