The National Weather Service recently announced a trial of a new data collection system that, if successful, will mean a change in work shifts for weather service employees located in Kodiak.
Three representatives from the organization spoke to leaders of the community at a conference last Friday. Those at the table included several Kodiak Island Borough Assembly members and borough employees.
Aimee Devaris is the Director of the Alaska Region of the National Weather Service. She says they have forecast offices in Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, as well as several statewide facilities in Anchorage such as the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit.
She says nine of the 12 remote offices are part-time, and the weather service has kept Kodiak as one of the full-time offices.
“Primarily because these are the largest communities that have a remote office,” says Devaris. “And we wanted to start with smaller communities and kinda test our assumptions and make sure that we could maintain strong relationships with the communities from the forecast office, make sure we had a good network of observations and things to support the forecast. And we’ve done that.”
She says over a decade ago, before the internet and other advancements in technology, those remote locations produced local weather reports, but now their main function is public service and data collection.
“They’re strategically placed for the purposes of launching the weather balloons to collect data in the atmosphere,” says Devaris. “That’s something that happens over the entire globe simultaneously twice a day. These balloons go up. So it’s not just something that’s done in the United States. It’s done everywhere for the purposes of numerical weather prediction. I mean, that’s really why we have a midnight shift and we’ll have to continue to have that for now.”
Devaris says they will test an automated system for the weather balloons that could help support a smaller team of employees than exists now and replace the need for the early morning shift.
“We’re procuring an automated system that’s similar to what they use in Canada, Norway, there are a lot of Northern countries with similar climates that use these systems,” says Devaris. “And so we’re gonna test that here in Kodiak really to maintain the continuity of that important observation. And if we’re successful with that, then that does get us out from under the necessity to run a midnight shift.”
Devaris says installation is tentatively planned for October.
Sam Albanese is the meteorologist in charge of the Anchorage forecast office. He explains that the Kodiak employees already serve as middle men between Anchorage and Kodiak. He says the public currently has the option to contact the Anchorage office directly for weather information.
And, in the near future, so will mariners calling in via satellite phone with weather observations and forecast requests.
“What happens is, whoever you talk to in Kodiak, they wind up calling us and saying ‘yeah, we just talked to this mariner and they said this was going on,’ so a lot gets lost in translation that we can’t converse with the mariner,” says Albanese. “And so that’s one of my goals. That satellite phone will be in the Anchorage office.”
Albanese says there are currently five weather service employees in Kodiak, but they only need three to supervise the automated system. He says that number will be achieved as a result of employee turnover.
Weather service representatives also presented a website the public can use to see weather conditions at exact locations on land and at sea.