Madison County, Texas, to Put Digital Eye to the Sky

Officials plan to install a weather tracking system to provide real-time updates to the county’s Emergency Operations Center and the public. Neighboring community North Zulch is already a step ahead.

by / January 11, 2012
A downburst in Madisonville, Texas, scattered debris far and wide in 2009. Photo courtesy Madison County

Madison County, Texas, is no stranger to erratic and potentially dangerous weather conditions. In one instance in the summer of 2009, 80 mph winds fanned out across Madisonville a community 40 miles northeast of College Station, the home of Texas A&M University.

The downburst scattered debris far and wide. Roofs were ripped off, trailers and vehicles were overturned, and trees were uprooted.

In part because of this weather event and others, county officials are planning to install a weather station on top of the county courthouse this year. The weather station will track temperature, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, wind chill, barometric pressure and rainfall, said Shelly Butts, the county’s emergency management coordinator. County officials want to purchase the monitoring station from WeatherBug — whose claim to fame is a national weather network service with more than 22 million online users.

Once installed, the station will connect in two ways: through the county’s Office of Emergency Management in the emergency operation center (EOC), and via a network link that will be accessible online. Through the network link, the public will be able to see the weather information by first going onto the county’s website then linking to the WeatherBug website, or users can go straight to the WeatherBug site and type in the community’s ZIP code.

“It has a capability to display loads of information that’s not only vital to our first responders, but our administrative staff, as well as our public,” Butts said.

In addition to the weather station, a camera also will be installed to capture visuals of the weather conditions. The camera will be able to show the EOC a view of up to one mile away from its location. The county ultimately wants the camera to be controllable from the EOC so they can view cloud formations and weather systems that are developing.

Funding for the installation will come from Department of Homeland Security funds, at a total cost of $15,100: $7,600 for the weather station and another $7,500 for the camera.

The station and camera will be installed on top of the courthouse, located in Madisonville — the county seat located less than two hours from Houston — for maximum viewing distance.

Butts said the technology will work in combination with the EOC’s Global Connect reverse notification system. In the event of a severe weather event that, for example, may require evacuating the area, the system is the mechanism through which the EOC can notify the public on how to take proper action.

A specific date has not been determined for the installation of the weather station and camera.

Neighboring Weather Station

Roughly 12 miles east of the Madison County Courthouse, the North Zulch Independent School District already has installed a WeatherBug weather station, as of spring 2009, at the district’s junior high school.  The station was struck by lightning and had to be replaced, said Jack Dacus, the school district’s IT director for the district.

Dacus said the replacement station tracks lightning, so a lightning map for North Zulch is available on the WeatherBug website. The station is often used in the district’s elementary school science classes for tracking weather data.

“Our website is not only used by the school district, but also by the community and surrounding areas,” Dacus said. “This is a pretty accurate picture of what’s happening here and now down the road from [local residents].”

He said the station helps the community access more accurate weather reports since weather reported on local television tends to focus more on areas outside of the immediate North Zulch area.

Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.