BiBeCoWx - Big Bend Community Weather Network
Update: I created a help file/tutorial on registering for an account (UserID/Password) for anyone that needs help, but it is really pretty easy.
What is BiBeCoWx? Big bend Community Weather Network is an online "database" (similar to a spreadsheet) for the Big Bend region where volunteers can enter and upload their own weather observations. You do not need any gauges or instruments, although a basic rain gauge would be helpful. Even if you do not have anything other than your eyes, there are things you can add which will be valuable. Creating a "record" with one or more data observations will only take a few seconds to a minute at the most. The data will be instantly displayed on the page and it is freely accessible to everyone in the community and also to the meteorology community. The database allows you to search for various records, such as those near your location or for anything else, such as all days when it was 80 degrees or the date when any plants flower. Complete data sets, ready to be imported into any spreadsheet program such as MS Excel or Google Sheets on your own computer will be available for download on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis.
The purpose of the BiBeCoWx database is to maintain a history of the various weather conditions in many different locations of the Big Bend. How many of you that have gardens know off hand when the first or last freeze of the year usually occurs? Even if you have written down your own observations from previous years, with the input from others, whether one mile or 20 miles away, you will develop a better picture of our unique weather patterns and climate here. We have all seen questions where someone has a vacation cabin or only comes down periodically and would like to know if their rain catchment system has received enough rain to fill their tank. If we can get enough volunteers adding to the database, this question along with many more will be easy to answer by just checking the database for precipitation reports in the area. Wouldn't it be nice to quickly and easily check to see if anyone's plants have bloomed, to provide some insight as to when similar plants may bloom in your area? Having a good cross section of data samples in our extremely diverse geographical area can be a valuable resource for most everyone and it will be fun to do. As each year passes, the database will become more and more valuable for the community.
Many people do not truly realize how remote we are when it comes to weather reporting for our area. The NWS (National Weather Service) currently has very little data for our area as they typically rely on both manned and automated weather stations at airports along with NexRad weather radar. You see, we are quite literally, off the radar here. We are well past the useful and maximum range of NexRad radar. The closest airports with reporting weather stations are in Presidio, Alpine and Marfa (and the one at Marfa seems to only report wind speed and direction). So where does the NWS get their data for our area? That is the problem, they simply do not have data for most of the region. There are a few unmanned stations in the park and they have access to the data from our station and possibly a few other private stations that upload their data through MesoWest, but not nearly enough.
The NWS is always looking for more data and a couple of years ago, a meteorologist with the El Paso NWS WFO (Weather Forecasting Office) contacted me to get my opinion on some of the lower to mid range professional weather stations. They were looking for ways to "fill in the blanks" where they had no coverage, like the vast majority of the Big Bend area. Ever since then, I had been thinking about a way to collect weather observation data for the area and do so in a way that woud also benefit the community as a whole, whether or not the NWS is interested (but I know they would be once we get going and the participates fine tune their data sampling techniques). At the time, I had too many other things going on so it was put on the back burner until this past spring. I've worked many days and evenings on this and know if you will try it out, you will realize how it will benefit the community and most likely yourself. So, with some volunteers, a little training on the proper siting of gauges and consistent additions to our database, not only will it become a valuable asset for everyone in the community, but you can be a part of what may be in the Big bend history books of the future. One person I was speaking to the other day mentioned CoCoRahs, but (to the best of my knowledge) they only collect precipitation, which is important, but in an area as diverse as ours with our diverse terrain, we are in a unique geographic position and it is very important to collect other data at the same time.
Some examples of the data that can be entered are shown below:
- Precipitation - A hardware store rain gauge may be better than you think and although it is preferable to have a NOAA/NWS approved, NIST certified gauge, we would rather have a reading than no reading at all.
- Temperature - If you have a thermometer that is not being swayed by something else (direct sunlight, mounted on a surface opposite a heated or cooled room, etc.), then most any good outdoor thermometer will suffice.
- Humidity - I have seen $10 - $20 gauges that are surprisingly accurate in some situations - If you already have one, I may even be able to check it for you some time. If you are looking to purchase one, feel free to ask for my opinion.
- Dew point - Dew Point is a very important reading in meteorology. Many inexpensive electronic temperature meters will also display both humidity and the Dew Point. If you do not have a meter, anyone with a thermometer, tin can, some ice cubes and water can measure the Dew Point very accurately. See the BiBeCoWx forum for details.
- Pressure - Many inexpensive meters (both electronic and some wall mount gauges will include the atmospheric pressure - if you can measure it, great and if not anything else you can record will be fantastic.
- Wind Direction - This one is sometimes pretty easy even without a wind vane. Just turn your face until directly into the wind and note the direction you are looking, either by using a compass or a reference such as a landmark.
- Wind Speed - Again, with some simple techniques, it is easy to learn how to estimate the wind speed. Also, I have been working on a design so that anyone with a scroll or jig saw, some scrap materials and a few dollars of hardware can make one. Getting the plans fully drawn up and posted on the BiBeCoWx Forum is on my to-do list and will make a nice project for some cool winter evenings.
- Visibility - Most meteorological sites do not have any automated equipment for this as it is extremely expensive. However, the NWS relies on human observations where it is possible. In our area, it is easy to do if you are in a location where you can see distant landmarks in the 10 - 50 mile range. I will try to post some examples and tips on this on the Forums.
- Sky (cloud coverage) - This is another important bit of data that all you need is a good pair (or even not so good) eyes. The way this is done is by estimating the cloud coverage of the whole sky in "eights" for example, The cloud coverage will either be CLR (0/8 cloud coverage), FEW (1/8 TO 2/8 cloud coverage), SCT (SCATTERED, 3/8 TO 4/8 cloud coverage, BKN (Broken, 5/8-7/8 coverage), and OVC (OVERCAST, 8/8 Coverage).
- Remarks - This is for anything else that is important regarding the data entered. For example, if an extremely hot or cold day, you might have a temperature reading for the hottest time of the day and would simply note this in the remarks area. Another example that I like, is to note the conditions when any of your plants bloom and to simply state something like, Rainbow Cactus bloomed. Also, I set up a photo gallery and if you added a photo to go along with your reading, you can note the photo number or include the link to it.
We have some hints, suggestions and guidelines on the BiBeCoWx User Forums for the proper placement of any gauges or instruments. Also, there are suggestions how to estimate some things such as Wind direction and speed, visibility and sky conditions I will soon be posting. Even if you can only provide data for one thing, such as precipitation, cloud coverage or the fact that one of your cacti bloomed today, it will be beneficial to the community. You do not need professional instruments and for some interesting events, such as the day any of your plants bloomed, no instruments at all.
So, how do you get started - it is really very simple to get setup so you can add records to the database. You will need a UserID and Password to login to the site (just as you have to login to Facebook or any other social site if you wish to add or post anything). To get your UserID and Password, just click the Register link near the top right of any page and follow the prompts. After your UserID and Password account details are comp0lete, we need one more important piece of information: the location where you will be taking weather observation. You can enter this information in your profile so you won't have to enter this each time you add a record. After you have entered your location (latitude, longitude and elevation (instructions are shown on your profile page as to how you can determine it) you enter the RSVP code (I don't publish it here but it is on some of the private Facebook groups or you can simply contact me and I will take care of it). The RSVP code is simply a method of adding you to users that have permission to enter records on the database