When last year’s drought decimated crops and livestock throughout the territory, the Department of Agriculture struggled to get federal funding to address the damages. It needed more proof that the Virgin Islands was experiencing a disaster, but it didn’t have the climatic data readily available to back the claim up.
On Friday afternoon the department got one step closer to having an effective data collection system in place when Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Robles unveiled three weather stations that will be installed throughout the territory.
During a meeting earlier this year with the V.I. Climate Change Council, Robles explained the territory needs more climatic data to become part of the U.S. Drought Monitor, an online monitoring tool that keeps track of factors to assess drought conditions.
Because the territory wasn’t part of the monitoring tool, Robes had to pull data from multiple sources including newspaper clippings to get an official drought declaration from the United States Department of Agriculture. With regular rainfall data available, proving the disaster would have been much easier, he said.
To address the data shortfall, Rebelto Harrigan Jr., a science lab teacher at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, offered the design he used to create the school’s weather station. An advocate of hands-on learning, Harrigan and a student assembled the components of the three new devices, which were certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“This is our contribution as a department to the agriculture community specifically but also to the body of knowledge of science that will be incorporated into national weather forecasting,” Robles said.
According to Robles, there are other rain gauges in the territory, but precipitation patterns vary so widely across each island that measurements from more locations are necessary to get an accurate picture of the situation.
The three weather stations will be installed in Dorothea on St. Thomas, near Community Gardens on St. Croix, and in Coral Bay on St. John. Robles said the department will install more stations when funding becomes available.
In addition to rainfall, the weather stations will also collect wind, humidity and temperature data, all of which is wirelessly transmitted to a data logger. At a cost of about $1,000 a piece, Harrigan said the weather stations are well worth the money for the amount of information they gather.
“I’m tired of someone in Puerto Rico looking at their radar and telling us what happened here,” Harrigan said of the territory’s lack of locally-collected climatic data. “We need to take ourselves from the Stone Age into the 21st century.”
Harrigan explained that the devices will take minimal effort to maintain, since they are solar-powered and have a sturdy PVC-pipe frame. But, if there’s a hurricane, the department would shelter them for safekeeping.
Going forward, the devices will help Agriculture and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration assess drought conditions. Robles said that U.S. Drought Monitor officials will be meeting with his department in August to discuss the remaining steps the territory needs to take to be included in the monitor.
“When you live on an island, you need to be able to manage your resources to the best of your ability,” Robles said.
Robles thanked Carver Farrow, the principal of Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, for his support of the project, as well as Harrigan for sharing his knowledge and weather station design.
“We want to get the next generation involved in every aspect of science,” Robles said. “If we can combine agriculture and meteorology, the more the better.”