Lindsey: Weather station added to Central Coast Aquarium brings education and boost to public safety – Santa Maria Times

Last week, PG&E Restoration Supervisor John Paleo and PG&E troubleman Dustin Knutson installed a Davis Vantage Pro 2 weather station, donated by PG&E, at the Central Coast Aquarium. The equipment will provide real-time weather information and archiving, which is available at

The new station will measure — minute by minute — temperatures, rainfall, wind speeds, humidity, barometric pressure, and even the sun’s rays. This station will benefit hundreds of elementary school students—many from underserved communities—meteorologists, residents, and businesses, along with tourists venturing to Avila Beach.

Students who attend marine science classes at the aquarium are primarily from Central California and the San Joaquin valley. Many have never seen the ocean, much less learning on an ocean-going research vessel out of Port San Luis. These students conduct plankton tows with a fine mesh net, and record seawater temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen readings and dissect invertebrates, like squid. These experiences on the water can be a life-changing event for a young person, opening the door through education to numerous career fields in the sciences.

This weather station will give the inquisitive students a better understanding and importance of the interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean. Along the California coastline, the speed and direction of the winds often determine the amount and type of plankton caught in their nets due to upwelling.

You see, gale-force northwesterly winds can produce heavy upwelling that brings cold and nutrient-rich water to the surface along the immediate shoreline. When the northwesterly winds relax, and upwelling diminishes, the plankton can multiply rapidly.

Sometimes, a type of dinoflagellate plankton can emit flashes of blue-green light in response to agitation. This is called bioluminescence. The light of just a single dinoflagellate can be seen at night. When millions upon millions of tiny plankton give off their light, the ocean can turn into a nearly indescribable light show.

Baitfish follow the plankton blooms, which in turn attracts humpback whales to San Luis Bay, sometimes close enough to the beach to smell their breath.

These students learn that on days with plenty of sunshine and lots of upwelling, California giant kelp can grow up to 24 inches in a single day, ultimately reaching more than 150 feet in length. At that rate, the students can almost see this type of algae grow in front of their eyes!

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Over the years, Chris Arndt of Weather Elements has added numerous weather stations throughout the Central Coast to his network., including stations on top of the Irish Hills and in Los Osos and Morro Bay. These stations will allow students to answer the age-old question, why is it often sunny in Avila Beach but overcast in Los Osos during the summer? If the winds blow out of the northwest, the air is carried up and over the Irish Hills.

The higher elevation causes the air to cool and reach its dew point temperature on the north side of the hills. When this occurs, the moisture condenses, creating fog, drizzle, or even precious rain. It’s like wringing out a sponge. As the air travels down the slopes toward the Central Coast Aquarium, it is warmed at the rate of about 5.5 degrees per 1,000 feet of descent, and the dew point spread increases, leaving behind clear skies and warmer temperatures.

These winds are called katabatic winds, from the Greek word katabatikos, which means “going downhill. “Avila Beach can be as much as 50 degrees warmer than Los Osos during periods of strong northwesterly winds in the summer. If the winds are out of the south, the opposite can occur.

These weather stations are particularly suited to the Central Coast, which has an abundance of microclimates. For weather watchers, it is fascinating to compare their community’s rainfall totals and temperature ranges with those in other parts of the Central Coast. For many, it’s a source of pride that their location recorded more rain in somebody else’s. People with orchards, vineyards, and gardens can tell if the air temperature is dropping toward freezing and can take measures to protect their plants.

Not only can these stations be used to educate students, but more importantly, they can be used for public safety, such as potential flooding and wildfires. The primary factors that influence the spread of wildfires are winds, fuels —dry grass, brush and trees, topography, ‘lay of the land, and humidity levels. Real-time weather information on the fire lines from these stations determine the need to move firefighters out of harm’s way when the winds shift or increase.

PG&E has been adding to its network of weather stations and cameras since 2018, mostly in high fire-threat areas in Northern and Central California. PG&E plans to install 1,300 weather stations by the end of 2021, which is designed to create a density of roughly one weather station for every 20 miles of electric lines in high fire-threat areas.

By the end of 2022, PG&E plans to have nearly 600 cameras installed. When complete, PG&E expects to have the ability to see in real-time roughly 90% of the high fire-risk areas it serves. PG&E’s weather station observations are available to state and local agencies as well as the public, through PG&E’s website at and through MesoWest.

John Lindsey is Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant marine meteorologist and a media relations representative. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @PGE_John.