Weather in Southern Utah can be unpredictable. Frequent changes in elevation, constantly shifting winds, rapidly falling and rising temperatures, even the variation of landscapes from sagebrush flats to slot canyons can combine to make safely working or recreating in the backcountry challenging, particularly on the Bureau of Land Management’s remote Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
In an effort to better understand the weather on the Monument, and its effects on everything from plant communities to wildlife to watersheds, Dr. Ken Bradshaw, Monument soil scientist and hydrologist, recently activated the first of a series of weather stations to provide real-time data that is available to scientists, firefighters, ranchers, recreationists…anyone with internet access.
“The instruments record current air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, solar radiation, soil temperature, rainfall, and wind speed and direction,” explained Bradshaw. “The station transmits the data hourly via a satellite uplink to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration GOES Data Collection System satellite, which is downloaded to BLMs Wildland Fire Management Information website.
“The information can be used for a variety of purposes…for long-term trend assessments such as calculating annual precipitation and drought monitoring; for rangeland health assessments and management of BLM lands; and to support efforts such as vegetation restoration projects where it is important to select seed types that will be most responsive to soil moisture conditions.
“These data are also valuable for watershed assessments. For example, hydrologic models are often used in watershed assessments where stream flow is important. These models use local information, such as rainfall and solar energy, to predict runoff from rain and snow melt and thus, stream flows in a watershed,” said Bradshaw.
In addition to knowing what the weather is like at the present time, users can see what has happened around the station in the previous hours and days.
From an on-the-ground user standpoint, having real time temperatures, as well as trend information, can help prepare for the weather one might experience. Recent rainfall can give an indication of road condition – are the roads dry and passable; or wet and possibly impassable. A rise in barometric pressure can indicate clear skies; or a drop can warn of a pending storm.
Users can access the data through MesoWest at http://mesowest.utah.edu/. The new station is called “Between The Creeks.”
At one time, the Monument had 19 weather stations dotting the landscape. These stations used cell phones to transmit the data to MesoWest. As cell phone technology changed, and satellite technology advanced, these stations, while still recording trend data, became obsolete.
By the end of the summer, Bradshaw plans to have a total of eight of the improved stations up and operating with another four planned for installation next spring/summer.
While the weather stations can give up-to-the-hour data, visitors are still encouraged to check with the local BLM visitor center or office to get current known travel conditions like road closures due to storm activity, recommended hiking and ATV routes, maps, and other information that will help make their visit a safe and fun experience.