Taking charge of the weather
When the city first installed two weather stations a few years back, the primary goal was to help city parks workers know when to water landscaping and when to let nature take its course.
But with two more stations installed late last year and a final two coming online this month, Lake Oswego is now fully 'gridded,' said Kevin McCaleb, the city's water conservation specialist. The network of six weather stations monitors temperature, wind speed and direction, rainfall, solar radiation and more.
'My goal was to grid the entire city,' McCaleb said. 'I wanted citizens to be able to get a wealth of information from a station close to them.'
The stations provide real-time climate information. Updated every minute, they allow parks workers and others to make decisions based on data rather than experience.
The first two installed, at the municipal golf course and the Westlake Fire Station, are more complex than the newer ones. Not only are they solar-powered - they have backup electricity supplies but have never needed to use them - but they also track some conditions that don't vary much by geography, such as evapotranspiration, the amount of water lost from plant transpiration and soil evaporation.
Eventually, McCaleb hopes to add webcams to each, highlighting beautiful sunrises and sunsets while giving public works crews an eye on every area of the city so they can allocate resources accordingly.
The first two weather stations cost roughly $14,000 apiece, including outside help for their installation. The newer ones cost about $4,900 each, and McCaleb handled the installation, having watched the process with the first ones.
Two are at Lake Oswego City Hall and the operations center. The final two installed are at Cooks Butte, an extinct volcano rising more than 700 feet above the Stafford area, and Nansen Summit, the highest point in the city - more than 900 feet in elevation.
There were some problems installing stations in such high, relatively inaccessible places. In one case, information from the weather station must be sent via radio to another city facility, where it is then uploaded to the Internet.
'But those are minor issues compared to the benefit we're going to get from them.' McCaleb said.
'The usability,' he said, 'depends on the customer.'
A homeowner might check the city's weather station website to see if they need to water their yard or landscaping strips; there's a gauge for that purpose.
Public works crews handling stormwater problems might use the system to determine whether they'll see damage in specific spots during winter storms.
'The weather stations give them an early shot at that,' McCaleb said.
Crews will also gain a better understanding of the relationship between inches of rain and stream levels, he said. 'When it starts raining at Nansen Summit, how long does it take to reach a creek? Now they'll know that.'
For parks workers, professional landscapers and gardeners, he said, 'It gives them the ability to monitor water so they use real climate conditions to decide when to water, where to plant and when.'
The information will also inform water curtailment plans. Officials will be able to see when the city is in danger of overusing water when it's hot and dry and rivers are already running low. Having the information could also lighten the load on the city's water infrastructure.
'This gives us the ability to track climate conditions,' McCaleb said. 'People could overuse their resources, but they now will know to mitigate.'