Griffiths Middle School installs state-of-the-art weather system

DOWNEY - Fastened to the roof of Building No. 70 at Griffiths Middle School is a silvery metallic pole pointing to the sky, with a thermos bottle-like gadget attached to its middle. The pole's tip is the highest point on the whole campus.It looks simple enough, but the contraption is actually the leading edge of a self-contained - and green - weather station called Vantage Pro 2 Plus by its maker, Davis Instruments, which is based in Hayward up north in the Bay Area. It has an anemometer, which measures wind speed and direction, and a hydrometer, which in the main measures barometric pressure ("the lower it goes, the greater the probability of rain"), four sensors, and two solar panels (no power is used except the sun's). Two of the sensors measure the ultra violet and solar radiation indices, while the other two give off temperature and humidity readings even as a small twirling fan charges up two lithium batteries that power the solar panels. The readings are then transmitted to a weather console on Randee Chambers' desk in Room 71, which is directly below the contraption on the roof. This is where Chambers has taught science to her sixth graders for 18 years. The Davis Instruments console, the second element of the integrated weather station, and which can now display "every function you would ever want to know about the weather at a glance," projects all this on a screen, and this had provided her with an ideal learning and teaching tool for more than 10 years, imparting meteorological concepts to her science class. Chambers just had the original Vantage Pro model to use until two years ago, when additional out-of-pocket financing helped by a $200 donation from the AYSO enabled the weather station to purchase a computer and the needed software. The resulting system configuration enabled the Griffiths weather station to transmit its data to the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which collects and provides all relevant data about the oceans and the atmosphere to thousands of users around the U.S. (including The Weather Channel, Fox, CNN, as well as many other radio and TV stations as well as various other news organizations) here and around the world. There is a privately-operated consortium as well, the Citizen Weather Observer Program (CWOP), which practically serves the same function as NOAA, used by weather watchers and enthusiasts that are also linked worldwide. Griffiths became a provider of data, instead of just a user. These two satellite-dependent agencies then transit weather data to whoever has use for it: most cities normally use the resources of a weather station located close to an airport. None of the above developments would have been possible without the help of Chambers' husband of 22 years. Retired these past 19 years from electronics/technology-rich careers at GTE and PacBell, the ever-handy Craig Chambers helped with the weather station's installation and even now helps his wife with related repair, maintenance, and troubleshooting tasks, with the assistance from time to time of the Griffiths custodial staff. "It's a team effort all the way," says Craig, who also assists in the maintenance of the classroom's aquarium, its hydroponics system (for growing fruits and vegetables), and other scientific class projects. He is a graduate of Long Beach City College and has a bachelor's in marine biology from the University of Oklahoma, while she has both a BS and MS in agricultural biology from Cal Poly Pomona; both are licensed ham radio operators. Two years ago, when the switch to Vantage Pro 2 Plus was made, all the above weather information began to be fed to Randee's computer. This enabled her to go online and reach more users, especially within the district for informational as well as educational purposes. When the city of Downey first went digital in 2009 and set up its website, it linked up to NOAA and provided only daily temperature readings. This situation was to change at the end of April when the city agreed to the Chambers' offer to have the weather station's data streamed to the city's website. "All we did was change our link, from NOAA to the Griffiths station," says the city's public information officer, Juddy Ceniceros. Now Downey citizens, by clicking the city's weather icon, can immediately read the temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity, precipitation, and the barometric pressure conditions in the area. Another click will show such additional information as the heat index, wind chill, dew point, a 12-hour forecast as well as precipitation projections. Another click and a weather map for the area and environs comes up. The weather data being streamed 24/7 to the website is thus more localized and contains more details than before. This development, which was unforeseen just a few months ago, immediately puts Downey in a different light. "It is the only city in the USA to have a school provide it with the most accurate and current weather," says Craig. "What's more," he continues, "since this station was bought and paid for out of our family budget, the district does not repair or maintain it. It has nothing to do at all with its upkeep. Griffiths is the only middle school in the state to have such a station in place. The data we have collected goes back at least five years, and thus it is also a great research resource, and of course extremely valuable in an educational environment." "Also," he says, "with all of the cuts in school districts across the country, isn't it refreshing to see the DUSD doing something so positive as to give back to the community instead of taking something away?" To Mayor Roger Brossmer, who works fulltime for the district, it is yet "another example of the great collaboration between the city and the school district." Indeed, the Chambers couple, Griffiths Middle School and the district are scheduled to be recognized next Tuesday at the City Council meeting for a very special reason: their collaborative contribution to the city's prestige and towards the enhancement of its quality of life.

********** Published: May 17, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 05