For decades, the skies of Oklahoma have been watched by the Mesonet at the National Weather Center. It is here at OU that researchers are discovering new ways to accurately predict weather patterns.
The state of Oklahoma is world-renowned when it comes to severe and inclement weather, and for the past few decades, it has become a hub of climate research and operations — chiefly, the Mesonet.
The Mesonet, short for Mesoscale Network, observes and transmits data from all across the state and forwards it to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey based out of OU. Here, researchers and OU students get involved with studying weather patterns, assessing climate change and keeping Oklahomans safe.
The Mesonet has at least one station in each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. One such station — the Kessler Atmospheric and Ecological Field Station — is less than 20 miles from OU.
Christopher Fiebrich is the executive director of the Oklahoma Mesonet and has been the associate director of the OCS since 2010. His main focus is in Mesoscale meteorology and climatology, meteorological instrumentation, applied meteorology and climatology.
The Mesonet on campus has seven student employees. For the Oklahoma Mesonet, the Kessler Farm in Purcell hosts the Washington Mesonet system.
“Those students work in the operations center at the National Weather Service where seven days a week, the communications to all 120 of our Mesonet sites are monitored,” Fiebrich said. “During (COVID-19), those student employees are all teleworking, set up at their homes to be able to monitor communications between stations and also support the technicians maintaining our weather stations.”
Fiebrich said five students focus on maintenance and support, a sixth student does data services and the seventh works in the public safety outreach team.
When people request weather data, the sixth student employee fills that request and sends it to the user. The seventh student employee works in the public safety outreach team that trains emergency managers across the state on how to use weather data from the Oklahoma Mesonet to make decisions for their communities.
Fiebrich said another group they work with is the Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling.
The Mesonet and the Center work closely so they can couple their data from the unmanned aerial vehicles that are going higher in the atmosphere with the data from Kessler Farm.
The Center uses facilities like Kessler Farm and unmanned drones to travel through the air, collecting data such as humidity and temperature along the way.
“The CASS group are the key scientists that do that work,” Fiebrich said. “We work closely with them so that we can couple data from the (unmanned aerial vehicles) higher in the atmosphere, and our weather station at Kessler Farm.”
Jeff Basara is the associate director of graduate programs at the school of meteorology at OU and is the director of the Kessler Atmospheric and Ecological Field Station.
“From my earliest recollection, I’ve always been fascinated by the atmosphere,” Basara said in his faculty biography. “I’d read books about it, I’d go to the library, I’d watch the Weather Channel — I constantly wanted to gain knowledge about how the atmosphere worked.”
Basara works with students at the Mesonet to not only provide increased knowledge about weather patterns to the state, but also as an opportunity to teach his students about how researchers all over the world use this knowledge so they can be prepared for their careers.
“We can use our information that we gain across a wide spectrum to improve weather forecasts and weather predictions,” Basara said. “Also, to understand what’s happening in our climate system, and weather then aggregates up to climate and how our climate is changing and becoming more variable — especially in the Great Plains of the U.S.”
Basara said he hopes one day his students will be able to find answers to all of their questions in their line of work and be able to make great strides in improving their knowledge of the weather and climate.
“These are all processes I’m trying to understand,” Basara said. “My students and I are working on a wide variety of research projects to improve our knowledge in those areas. Really, it’s about satisfying that insatiable curiosity about how the atmosphere works.”