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Meteorologists Have Eye in the Sky at Wildwood Campus

June 12, 2013

weather cameera  
The digital weather camera at Wildwood helps local
meteorologists warn residents of impending severe

Atop a tall pole on the northeast corner of St. Louis Community College’s Wildwood campus sits a piece of equipment that can help local meteorologists warn residents of impending severe weather.

The digital weather camera is one of the most western cameras in the St. Louis area, and one of the earliest ways that westward rolling storms can be detected without radar.

The idea for the camera’s location came from John Fuller, meteorologist for KPLR 11 and FOX 2, and Afzal Lodhi, chair of sciences, social sciences and physical education. The two brainstormed the idea when Fuller began teaching meteorology classes for STLCC in 2011.

“Different views of the area help us to develop an overview of what’s happening weather-wise,” said Fuller. He and weekend meteorologist Chris Higgins use the camera regularly for broadcasts on KPLR 11 and Fox 2 newscasts.

Before the installation of a camera near the Hermann Hill Inn, cameras had only been used for security or to monitor traffic in the St. Louis area. Higgins and Jim Dieckhaus, cameraman and engineer at KPLR 11 and Fox 2, worked together to have the first one installed.

Dieckhaus said they have learned a lot of important lessons from the time of that first installation that helped them with the Wildwood camera.

“We discovered that we had to protect the lens with glass domes, but the glass domes also needed heaters and fans to protect them from icing or fogging in extreme temperatures,” said Dieckhaus. “We also know that we needed something that could be manipulated remotely to give us different shots. The ability to move the camera increases the chances of capturing a specific view of the weather and to view the sky from multiple directions.

“The camera also had to have a wireless setup because of the distance between the building and where we wanted to put the camera,” Dieckhaus added. “We’ve also found that including the buildings on the property in the weather shot makes it more appealing for promotional use.”

Once the location on the campus was determined, there was another problem to overcome.

“Light poles have power and there was no pole there,” said Dieckhaus.

After approaching the officials with the city of Wildwood, they agreed to donate and install a pole.

“Everyone realized the value of the camera,” said Dieckhaus. “It’s a tool that can be used for a lot of reasons. It serves the whole community.”

Fuller uses the camera extensively in his broadcasts. In addition to providing a live shot, he also can take a stream and manipulate it with his software to show time-lapsed photos of the weather. The camera can be manipulated through a smart phone; the meteorologists have full access to its information from anywhere.

Fuller also uses the camera as a teaching tool in his class. 

“Meteorology students use it to observe sky conditions, approaching severe weather and winter hazards,” he said. “And they get a better understanding when I can show them certain kinds of weather conditions.”

Fuller will teach meteorology again this fall, and students will learn why we have weather, the forces that create specific weather patterns and phenomena, global weather patterns and will participate in weather forecasting using daily public weather information.