Color ATV
Scanning Weather Observation Platform
by Todd L. Sherman/KB4MHH
[IMAGE: Scanner]



Eastern Time.

[ANIM: Traffic Light]

to be notified whenever there are any changes made to this page. (Courtesy NetMinder.)

[ICON: Alachua FreeNet]
Internet services provided for free by Alachua County FreeNet.

ATV Color
[ANIM: Vidcam]
Scanning weather Observation Platform


This is just a basic overview of an idea for an ATV scanning weather platform that popped into my head just a few weeks ago (during one of my half-asleep "dazed-dream" modes that I often settle into just before falling into "snore" mode) when the late afternoon thunderstorms began to appear on a fairly regular basis. I'd been monitoring The Weather Channel during the time when they were apparently going `storm-chaser-happy' - showing videos taken by various storm chasers every day of the severe storm events the chasers had been bumping into across the country (mostly the Plains States in Tornado Alley). I thought, `WHY in the world are those people out there risking their lives chasing things that often can kill them?!' If they want to catch a video of something, why doesn't the Natl. Weather Service (or some other like government organization) just set aside a budget and set up multiple scanning weather observation cameras in lots of `weather busy' locations? Then they wouldn't have to chase, they'd just have to flip a switch and look at the video of that area. Of course, I realize that this wouldn't actually stop the dare-devils from driving up to the storms anyway; but I'm sure it could help the science of weather in its own way still, as well as quite probably help to save lives in the event of an actual severe weather problem that could occur in our own localized area.

Actually, I was thinking of using this idea mostly in terms of the local area (Gainesville and Alachua County and possibly the surrounding areas depending upon what the actual range of the camera turns out to be) where we could then have our own severe weather storms monitoring system using a camera (or cameras) mounted upon a slewable alt/azimuth drive platform (or platforms).

This is not a new idea, of course. WJXT Channel 4 in Jacksonville has their own Sky Tower, as does WESH Channel 2 in Orlando [e-mail]. (And there's a rumor going around that WCJB-TV Ch. 20 [e-mail] here in Gainesville will soon be putting up one of their own cameras on a local tower. I'm sure there are by now countless other TV News stations with the same setup. BUT, they are pretty much used primarily for traffic situation monitoring (WJXT's platform is a variant in that it also takes pictures of the sky every few seconds in order to get a fast-motion quick movie of the day's weather action over the city). I am NOT aware of very many like AMATEUR RADIO operations going on at this time. Perhaps we Gainesville area hams should take advantage of that and take the initiative in that arena? But if anyone knows of similar amateur radio-related projects and or likes this idea, please let me know at my e-mail address at the end of this document. [See Correspondence Section below for e-mail correspondence regarding this project idea.]

Though I am an amateur radio operator, I must admit I am NOT the technical wizard most people equate to being a "ham." When I tried for my first license, I may have learned the Morse Code in less than three WEEKS (and then I was already up to 15 wpm); but it took me what seemed like *forever* -- a few MONTHS -- to get the theory part of the test down. And then, it took me a number of tries to obtain my General. Quite the opposite of most of the other hams that I know. (Mathematics just isn't my bag, and it gives me migrains, unfortunately.) Thus, you will find neither technical schematics nor any design blueprints for this project here. What you will find here is a simple verbal description of an IDEA -- one with which hopefully someone else -- who has both the technical skill, the will, and the drive to get such a project going -- can see it through from here. I must admit that seeing it indeed take off from just an idea and turn into a reality would make me proud.

I haven't actually thought of a permanent name yet for the platform - though I guess the one in the title of this document is probably the most descriptively accurate one. Its basic purpose would, I guess, be to allow scanning of the horizon back and forth for cloud formations, allowing anyone to observe these cloud formations from the safety and cover of the home or some building, and allow the observer to determine if/when/where the possibility for dangerous severe weather effects could occur. In the event of an actual severe weather event, in some cases, the camera MAY be able to be used to track severe weather events like tornados that have touched down in the area, among other possibilities.


  • A color ATV camera mounted on scanning platform.

  • Assembly should be able to scan in both the horizontal (with 360-degree panning motion, or as close to it as poss.) and vertical (with 90-degree panning motion from horizon to zenith) directions, and have zoom capability for watching clouds farther out, and for scanning features and formations below the updraft tower, in the rain-free areas.

  • Of course, the whole outdoor platform would obviously have to be weather-proof.

  • Outdoor assembly would be mounted atop either a tall building (like Beatty Towers? or atop the Shands Dental Health Sciences Bldg.? etc.), or maybe in a low-lying area (like Paines Prairie?) - someplace with a good, uninterrupted all-around view of the complete horizon.

  • Signal perhaps sent to possibilities like:
    • IFAS building, where the signal can be boosted and then rebroadcast shared with it's current satellite ATV GOES-8 retransmissions. Suggestion: during non-emergencies - 60-seconds of GOES-8 satellite images and 60-seconds of local area ATV weather platform scanning. During emergencies, weather platform ATV transmissions get priority until emergency is over. GOES-8 transmissions may be pulled up at any time however at control operators command and discretion as needed. [UPDATE - 1999: The GOES-8 ATV retransmissions have ceased since the site took a lightning strike a few years ago.]
    • County EOC Bldg.
    • New CCC Bldg.
    • Red Cross Bldg.

  • Non-emergency Automatic Scan Mode - where camera would scan back and forth along horizon by itself until commanded to stop.

  • Emergency Remote Control - where a control operator may take over manual control of the pointing/zoom of the camera assembly to focus on areas/clouds of particular note.

  • Later Add-Ons

    [Example SWOPCAM Image]

  • Text overlays showing date, time, camera number, owning agency.

  • Sensor indicators showing temperature, wind direction, wind speed, barometric pressure, humidity, etc. This could be shown off to the side (or bottom) of the screen as a data bar?

  • Perhaps someone with a good programming knowledge may later be able to add in a capability to project computerized overlays of particular subdivision boundaries in the field-of-view, as well as tick-mark directional indicators along the bottom horizon line, i.e., "...N...NE...E...SE...S...SW...W...NW...". These would move as the camera moves;

  • Someone could also add to the side of the screen a calibrated set of tick markers to indicate height above ground, or azimuth. This could be used to perhaps determine height of cloud bases and cloud tops?

  • Another set of tickmarks squeezed immediately next to the height indicator tick marks could also be used to indicate distance from camera.
  • The latter two ideas present a problem. I'm not a mathemetician, but, it would seem to me that in order to determine a cloud's height, we have to first know its distance. So, we'd have to first calibrate the distance tick marks to indicate the correct distance along the ground. But how do you find the distance of a cloud using a TV camera, and where the cloud base does not touch the ground the ticks were calibrated for? I think its not as difficult as it first appears. It seems to me that all one would have to do is to find the center of a cloud mass and draw a line through it down to the cloud base. Then, draw another line from the center of the cloud base to the center of the screen at the horizon? Then you draw another line back IN the exact same distance and at the exact opposite angle that was made by the line from the cloud to the horizon - but along the ground, and this will be the position of that cloud relative to the ground. (Somebody help me here.) This could be done with the eye and so we shouldn't have to spend any additional money on expensive, fancy programming. Now find the distance to that point on the ground using the above-mentioned distance scale.

    If I'm correct...my mouth is gaping in surprise. Though, because I was never good with math I do seem to have apparently developed this adaptive compensatory ability -- which often amazes me -- and for which I haven't yet come upon the appropriate descriptive word for, much less understood. That might explain it. (I'm often able to `see' how things work -- when I can't for the life of me begin to try to describe their workings to anyone.)

    If I'm wrong, please send me email and correct me so that I can quickly delete this scientifically illiterate mumbling and save myself some face. 8-)

    Some possible uses

  • To monitor cloud growth in the surrounding area;

  • To watch for falling precipitation from clouds in the surrounding area;

  • To monitor lightning activity - intensity and frequency - within storm cells approaching the area of Gainesville;

  • To watch for microbursts, strong gust fronts, hail clouds, supercell/mesocyclone cloud rotation or wall clouds descending below the cloud base, "funnel clouds", or, of course, the definition tornado;

  • To track the actual path of destruction of a tornado which has touched down in the area (if we're lucky enough to get a view without a rain curtain blocking it - and tornados do not originate SOLELY from mesocyclones) - perhaps even using to predict most likely path it will imminently take and the subdivisions it will most likely affect. This information could be immediately shared with local Emergency Management agencies;

  • Transmissions could be videotaped and tape shared with local/ foreign Emergency Management officials/agencies.

  • Videos of actual local severe weather situations could also be used later in mock severe storm drills.

  • OEM, Fire/EMS depts., local radio and TV stations could each be set up with thier own ATV converters to receive our transmissions. These places can then make actual use of the transmissions. Perhaps local radio and TV stations could use our images to produce their own emergency bulletins without having to deal with the delays of Report confirmations. Now they can see what is actually happening AS it is happening on their own TV screens.

  • Our initial low-budget project could spark interest at the University of Florida in a `like', higher-budget project, and/or see interest generated whereby other local or even non-local amateurs may set up thier own ATV scanning weather platforms,, or maybe even see TV-20 come up with a larger `WeatherCam'. Point is, there'd then be more of these cameras all around town and they could all be linked together to form a `network' of weather monitoring camera platforms. This can be taken advantage of to better triangulate positions of severe weather events in our local vicinity.

  • Ocala and other surrounding cities and towns might very well find our views towards thier areas of particular helpful interest. This could also generate more like platforms in those surrounding cities and towns, and perhaps later, all these video sites could be monitored and used by the National Weather Service.

  • Our feed could be used by weather students at the Univ. of Fla.

  • Cloud patterns and motions may now be studied from the comfort of home, perhaps even classes and ARES/SKYWARN weather classes conducted over a 2-meter repeater while watching what is being described or talked about on the ATV feed.

  • Aw hell, hook this bugger up to a vehicle and then take it for a test spin to see how useful it can be as a roving facilitator of damage assessment reporting, too!

  • Tracking of large fires and the plume spreads in the county.

  • Tracking spread of hazmat chemical plumes.

  • Other Thoughts

  • Perhaps, if it could be made a part of a University of Florida project (as in JOINT project between the Univ. and local hams), and if it could be categorized as an "experiment", then more than one at a time of these could be produced, and funding for the project could be provided by a grant? Should it turn out to be a success, this could generate a lot of attention.
  • Obviously, there are many, many more applications in there - some of which you probably have right now in the back of your own mind. That's good. Keep going with it. Maybe you'll be the one to get the project started...the one who takes it out of the dream stage and makes it turn into a reality. I'd like to ask one favor of you if you do make it a reality...let me know so I can follow its progress.

    E-mail Correspondence Received Regarding This Project Idea:

  • from John Magliacane, KD2BD (author of KD2BD SpaceNews)
  • from John Holmes
  • =====================================================================

    Color ATV Scanning Weather Observation Platform (SWOP)
    Todd L. Sherman/KB4MHH
    Gainesville, Alachua Co., Fla.
    E-mail: afn09444@afn.org
    Page Created: June 18, 1996.
    Last Updated: November 20, 1999.

    © Copyright 1996-1999 by Todd L. Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

    [ Top of Page] [ Back To Main Page]