BOCES, UAlbany Partner to Offer School Districts Extreme Weather Forecasting Tool

Capital Regiona BOCES' Capital Region BOCES' Senior Executive Officer Joseph P. Dragone speaks at a news conference at the University of Albany
Capital Region BOCES’ Senior Executive Officer Joseph P. Dragone speaks about a new “extreme weather risk assessment dashboard”—a partnership between the University of Albany and BOCES—that offers participating school districts statewide access to localized weather data and forecasting predictions, updated in real-time.

As school districts across New York prepare for winter, a partnership between the University at Albany’s Center of Excellence in Weather & Climate Analytics (UAlbany/COE) and Capital Region BOCES will offer them a new forecasting tool for advanced insight into potential impactful weather conditions.

“We’re thrilled to partner with UAlbany to offer a tool that will help BOCES’ and school district officials statewide more accurately evaluate the situation they are facing and make an informed decision to close or delay school,” said Capital Region BOCES’ Senior Executive Officer Joseph P. Dragone.

“UAlbany is proud to team  with Capital Region BOCES to offer school districts throughout the state a first-in-the-nation weather forecast tool that can enhance their decision-making and mitigate the impacts of extreme weather,” said UAlbany Vice President for Research James Dias. “As a public research institution, this partnership is a great example of UAlbany’s continued commitment to finding meaningful solutions to today’s biggest challenges.”

“Making weather-related decisions that will impact the safety of our students and staff depends on having quality, timely ‘hype-free’ information,” said Guilderland Central School District Superintendent Marie Wiles. “Piloting the weather forecasting tool in Guilderland means that we have had the opportunity to shape it into something that can help keep everyone safer in times of challenging weather conditions.”

A researcher at the University of Albany demonstrates the features of a new extreme weather dashboard available to school districts.
The new weather dashboard is currently in its pilot phase with the six BOCES in the Capital Region, Oswego County, Sullivan County, Cayuga-Onondaga County, Monroe 1 and Monroe 2. Several more BOCES regions are expected to offer the dashboard to their school districts within the next few months. Photo by: University of Albany/Brian Busher

The extreme weather risk assessment dashboard relies on a combination of numerical weather prediction modeling and machine learning techniques to produce hour-by-hour forecasts for a number of different variables, including snowfall, freezing rain, sleet, heavy rain, wind gusts, heat index, and wind chill.

Forecasts are divided into hourly intervals and color-coded based on the likelihood of a prediction being met at that time. For example, a forecast that is colored red for 3-plus inches of snow between noon and 1 p.m. has a high probability (greater than 50 percent) during that interval. If that same interval is colored blue instead, it has a low probability, or if blank, the risk is unlikely.

“With the winter weather looming and the lake effect creating localized weather conditions across the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, this is an essential tool to help school leaders make an educated decision about the school schedule,” said Monroe 1 Educational Services Superintendent Daniel White. “It’s also easy-to-use and access.”

The dashboard also provides current conditions in the region through the New York State Mesonet, a statewide network of 126 standard weather stations. Each state Mesonet station tracks approximately 20 weather variables and collects still camera photos to visualize conditions. Updates to the data are fed through the network’s operation center, located at UAlbany, every five minutes. There’s at least one station in all 62 counties, about 19 miles apart.
Dashboards will be locally customized for partnering BOCES regions, with training and on-boarding offered to superintendents before implementation.

“The Center of Excellence in Weather & Climate Analytics is UAlbany’s entrepreneurial hub for a network of over 120 weather and climate faculty, researchers and research staff,” said Christopher Thorncroft, interim director of UAlbany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC) and director of the COE and NYS Mesonet. “By leveraging this expertise on our campus, and through our partnership with Capital Region BOCES, this dashboard is going to offer school districts with significant insight on local weather conditions that can help them determine appropriate action for school closings, delays and cancellations.”

“We’re passionate about helping New York solve weather problems, so I’m extremely excited to contribute to the safety of our schools during impactful weather,” added Nick Bassill, a Center of Excellence in Weather & Climate Analytics/NYS Mesonet scientist who is leading the dashboard’s development. “This tool provides a common weather resource for decision-makers that’s straightforward and tailored to each district.”