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Appalachian State Breaks New Ground in Severe Weather Monitoring to Better Protect Students, Athletes and Fans

Aug. 5, 2013. Appalachian State University has become the first higher-education institution in the world to deploy an integrated weather monitoring system that combines a commercial-grade weather station with advanced weather monitoring and forecasting capabilities. University officials expect the new weather forecasting, data collection and decision support system will help protect athletes, students and fans from extreme heat, high winds, lightning strikes and other weather dangers.

Severe weather poses a number of risks for universities and college athletic programs. The threat of lightning strikes is especially great in states where college athletics are most popular – the South, Southeast and lower Midwest. In addition to the physical danger lightning poses to large crowds, it can also create panic leading to issues like bottlenecks and trampling. Heat is another major weather threat faced by college athletic programs: between 2005 and 2009, 18 athletes died as a result of heat-related illnesses – about three deaths each year. Occasionally, college sporting events have also been threatened by tornadoes.

Along with the severe-weather dangers faced by college athletic events and college campuses in general, Appalachian State University has a unique set of challenges. Because the university is situated in the mountainous region on Boone, it has its own microclimate; its weather conditions are often significantly different than those of nearby cities, and the topography of the region frequently results in poor visibility of weather and unconventional weather patterns.

“Our football stadium is tucked into the mountain, and there’s a risk we could have more than 30,000 people at a football game and a storm could be upon us,” said Appalachian State Assistant Athletics Director Douglas Justice. “To protect our students, athletes and fans we felt we needed to do something cutting-edge and different. We wanted a way to be sure we were never caught by surprise.”

The new Appalachian State weather system is made up of two integrated components that work together to monitor and measure weather conditions at the university, forecast future weather specifically for the university, and alert university officials of severe weather risks. The integrated weather decision support system can be accessed via the Internet using either a computer or mobile device and includes continuous lightning monitoring and alerts, detailed radar, hour-by-hour location-specific forecasts and 24/7 access to a certified meteorologist for decision support. 

The first component of the new system is the Lufft WS600, a compact weather station that combines three weather sensors – including a patented Lufft Precipitation Detection Doppler Radar – in a single unit to measure air temperature, relative humidity, precipitation intensity, precipitation type, air pressure, wind direction and wind speed. The weather station is manufactured by Lufft, an international company founded in 1881 and headquartered in Felbach, Germany.

The data collected by the Lufft weather station ties directly into the Schneider Electric Total View weather forecasting and decision-support system. More than 14,000 customers – including many professional sports teams, sporting organizations, colleges and universities – use Schneider Electric forecasting services. The company’s weather forecasts have been ranked as the most accurate in North America by an independent third party (ForecastWatch) for six consecutive years.

The Appalachian State University deployment marks the first time that the Schneider Electric forecasting service has been integrated with a commercial-grade weather station at a higher-education institution. This cutting-edge integrated weather system will offer important advantages to the Appalachian State community and improve the accuracy of the Schneider Electric forecast.

“What is truly remarkable about the Appalachian State system is that the weather data collected by the Lufft weather station will be automatically integrated into our weather forecast system, which is an adaptive learning system,” says Schneider Electric Executive Vice President Ron Sznaider. “That means that our forecast engine actively learns how to produce a more accurate forecast for the Appalachian State location and adapts to the nuances of that microclimate.”

The Appalachian State weather system was completed in June 2013 under the guidance of Transportation Equipment & Services, a North Carolina-based intelligent transportation equipment provider and consultant, which is also a management consultant for Schneider Electric and the exclusive provider of Lufft equipment in the United States.

“This is the type of weather station you’d typically see at an airport or transportation department – it’s the best instrumentation available, plus its compact size saves on infrastructure requirements, costs and maintenance,” says Mark Holland of Transportation Equipment & Services. “To have it in a university setting is unprecedented.”

About Transportation Equipment & Services (TES): With more than 26 years of experience in a wide range of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technologies, Transportation Equipment & Services, Inc. (TES) is a leading provider of safety solutions and advanced weather systems.  Combining technology and the highest level of customer service, TES creates safer environments and more efficient travel systems using the finest-quality products.  At Transportation Equipment & Services, Inc. our mission is to be the technologically superior equipment and services provider, allowing our customers to make their systems safer and more efficient.