Richland County’s innovative weather system is helping regional weather experts evaluate real-time situations and send emergency alerts keeping residents safe and informed.
RC WINDS – the acronym for Richland County Weather Information Network Data Systems – is a sophisticated network of dozens of professional-grade, automated weather monitoring stations located in and around the County. RC WINDS was developed and implemented by the County’s Emergency Services Department (ESD) and went live with a website, rcwinds.com, and free mobile phone app in 2014.
Since its inception, the system has provided the general public with live and historic weather data, including temperature, wind speed, rainfall and humidity. The reliability and detail of the information produced by RC WINDS has gained notoriety among weather professionals across the region, and the system is now used regularly by the National Weather Service to help issue alerts and emergency notifications.
“One of the many and most important specific ways we use RC WINDS data is to make flash flood warning decisions for flood-prone areas,” said Dan Miller, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Columbia. “There have been times when a flash flood warning was issued earlier than may otherwise have been the case based on rainfall amount and rate information obtained from RC WINDS gauges. Hopefully … [this] helps reduce the likelihood of motorists being impacted.”
Additionally, Miller says the wind speed data provided by RC WINDS assists the National Weather Service in verifying severe thunderstorm and high wind warnings — important information immediately relayed to the media and later broadcast to the public.
“Having real-time weather data during severe weather events allows our emergency responders to better allocate resources to the hardest hit areas,” said Ken Aucoin, Chief Meteorologist-Emergency Planner with Richland County Emergency Services. “This saves time where minutes can make a big difference in public safety.”
Each of the weather monitoring stations uses a WeatherHawk data collector that records and instantly feeds weather information to the RC WINDS website and mobile phone app. Aucoin said the range of variation between data collection points on any given day illustrates how varied weather can be at different places in Richland County.
Four of the collection stations are located outside of the County – including one on Coast Guard Island in Lake Murray and another at the S.C. Emergency Services Division headquarters in neighboring Lexington County. These collection points help emergency planners prepare for weather moving into Richland County as well as preparing to respond to potential wildfire or hazmat situations that, while not actually occurring within the County, could affect Richland County because of wind speed and direction.
“Each of these weather monitoring stations has the ability to provide real-time plume modeling,” Aucoin said. “Should a hazmat incident occur, live data from any of the sites allows emergency officials to warn or evacuate areas down-wind of any incident.”
RC WINDS data was invaluable in documenting how much rain fell during the historic October 2015 flood event. This type of significant weather information can be used for research and to improve hydrologic flood modeling and also for legal matters and insurance claims.
Aucoin said RC WINDS was always intended to be a free resource for Richland County residents. Having it become such a reliable resource for weather experts across the Midlands is an added bonus.
“RC WINDS data has been very valuable to our operations,” said Miller of the National Weather Service in Columbia. “I wish every county had a similar network.”
Visit youtube.com/richlandonline to learn more about essential RC WINDS data ESD monitors during hurricane season, which runs from June 1- Nov. 30.