How and where automated weather observations are recorded across ND and MT

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 6:53 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - With our persistent heatwave this month, record-setting temperatures have been recorded in some locations recently. But where and how are these official temperatures measured?

At the Bismarck Airport, there’s a set of important scientific instruments that measure the atmospheric variables we experience every day. This station is called an ASOS, short for Automated Surface Observing System. It takes measurements of temperature, wind, pressure, cloud height, precipitation, and more.

“An ASOS will record data every minute, every hour of the day, every day of the week. And then we can see all that data as it’s coming in, we can also call in and get real-time data,” said Megan Jones, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Bismarck.

These automatic observing stations are a joint effort between the National Weather Service, the FAA, and the Department of Defense. And this explains why ASOSs are usually placed at airports.

“It’s because it is aviation-focused. So, an ASOS is going to be located pretty much right on the runway so that we can get observations right where planes are going to be landing,” said Jones.

Nine ASOS observing sites are located in the First Warn viewing area, many of which are at the major airports. An additional 19 automated observing sites, called AWOSs, are scattered elsewhere in the region that don’t record quite as many weather variables as the ASOSs.

Weather observation sites in central/western ND and eastern MT
Weather observation sites in central/western ND and eastern MT(KFYR)

For weather records in Bismarck, they go back almost 150 years.

“The Bismarck records began in September of 1874, and it was actually at the old location of Camp Hancock, which is about where Main Street is right now,” said Jones.

And then in 1940, the weather observations officially moved to the Bismarck Municipal Airport where they were still done manually. Observations have then been recorded by this ASOS at the airport since it was installed in the 1990s.

Jones says there are many things, including quality control checks, that are done to ensure the data that’s being autonomously recorded is as accurate as possible.

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