When it comes to weather forecasting, Ashland long has been the little sister of Medford, often settling for re-jiggered readings based on what's happening 15 miles to the north, at a lower elevation.
But no more.
A 33-foot meteorological tower at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum is getting real-time readings of everything — temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, dew point, rainfall, solar radiation, cloud base and much more — along with graphs showing recent and historic data of all these readings.
The measurements are available online at weather.sou.edu and are being dialed into Ashland reports and forecasts of the National Weather Service at the Medford airport, said NWS forecaster Brett Lutz. They also will be available to the websites of Weather Underground, WeatherBug and the Weather Channel.
"The Ashland weather online is Medford, not Ashland, though it may say Ashland," says Southern Oregon University climatologist Greg Jones, noting there's often a 10- or 15-degree difference between the two cities.
"In this region, there's been only the one National Weather Service at the airport," Jones said.
He points to temperature readings from several online and local sources showing 28 to 38 degrees, while his real-time instruments read 31 degrees.
The NWS has had daily readings from the Ashland wastewater treatment plant, North Mountain Park Nature Center and Ashland airport, which are factored into its forecast data, but nothing in depth and in real time until now, says Lutz.
Jones built the weather tower three years ago for $15,000 for his classes, with help from Paul Kay of ScienceWorks, using at-cost instruments from Met One Instruments of Grants Pass, which paid for half of it, with the other half coming from the SOU Foundation.
Jones placed the weather tower in a field owned by SOU, where wind readings wouldn't be distorted by buildings or trees — and where it would represent a typical elevation for the town. It's inside a locked fence, with a lightning rod on top, and is able to bend to the ground for maintenance.
The NWS, said Lutz, will get much-improved data on Ashland — especially downslope wind, temperature and precipitation — and will "have a much better idea of what's going on there in real time."
Learning to understand all the measurements may take practice for residents. If temperature and dew point are within a few degrees of each other, for example, it could rain, says Jones.
If cloud base is zero (1,890 feet), that means (fog) on the ground. If wind is blowing and it's out of the southeast, look for the cloud base to lift.
A downward trending barometer usually means a storm system.
The evapo-transpiration instrument is vital for farmers, gardeners, grape-growers and city park crews, as it tells them the amount of water leaving the soil — thus, the amount they have to put back in, without wasting water or adding too much.
The page may be accessed on smart phones at weather.sou.edu/iwdl/#home.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.