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Weather monitoring sits at the center of stormwater compliance. Every day, inspectors consult forecasts to determine if pre-storm activities are needed. Once rain begins, this burden shifts as inspectors travel to the site to consult rain gauges and other instrumentation that guide during- and post- storm activities. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Before the stormwater industry, I worked as a mobile architect for the University of California. In this role, I participated in efforts collecting, delivering and distributing data between phones, tablets, autonomous sensors, and more. When I came to the stormwater industry, I could hardly believe how much the industry did by hand. At CloudCompli, we’re looking to change that.

Three questions guide our efforts around stormwater monitoring:

  • What process can we automate?
  • What equipment in the field can we integrate with?
  • What data can we collect from other sources?

In a previous article on this blog, Monitoring The Weather With Technology: A Bright Forecast, Jason discussed two types of data that sites must collect: predictive forecasts sourced from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and actual rainfall measured by rain gauges typically installed on the site. Historically, NOAA forecasts have been collected manually, gauges have been checked in person, and both have been interpreted by hand. Today, this no longer needs to be the case.

For predictive forecasts, NOAA provides its forecasts in a number of formats. Inspectors commonly use NOAA’s “plain text” and “printable” forecasts, but NOAA also provides its forecasts in machine-readable formats such as “Javascript Object Notation” and the “Digital Weather Markup Language”. These enable software platforms to automatically download and interpret forecasts without any human involvement. Our free StormPOP monitoring service uses this data to send weekly weather forecasts and alerts when the percent of precipitation exceeds 50%. Going a step further, our CloudCompli business intelligence software hooks this data into compliance workflows by considering site-specific information and local regulations to generate tasks and alerts advising sites what exactly they need to do to stay in compliance.

For on-site observations, Weather Underground (WUnderground) provides online access to thousands of weather stations. These include 2,000 maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), 26,000 maintained by NOAA, and 16,000 maintained by individuals in WUnderground’s Personal Weather Station (PWS) network. By using an existing station near the site or by setting up a station and connecting it to the PWS network, one can access this data via WUnderground in both human-readable and machine-consumable formats. On our CloudCompli platform, when a WUnderground station is specified, we automatically update the project’s rain log and provide real-time on-site weather telemetry.

This sort of instrumentation and automation has several key benefits. Most notably, it increases operational efficiency by removing a lot of tedious manual work. For example, users on the CloudCompli platform have reported time savings of over 50% since moving away from doing everything manually. It also adds a level of assurance around compliance by interpreting weather data in a consistent, auditable fashion, and by saving it securely in the cloud. Although the cost savings and risk mitigation enabled by these interconnections is already substantial, it barely touches the surface of what we believe can be done as we look to the future.

NOAA has vast archives of historical weather data prime for predictive modeling. Looking at other industries, some already use historical data to improve current operations. A large building materials enterprise, Cemex forecasts customer demand from historical data, allowing it to position supply trucks closer to where they’re likely going to be needed in order to reduce order fulfillment time. This use aligns closely with inspectors visiting a large number of sites. Imagine a platform that helps an inspector plan out their site visits based on precipitation probabilities, mashing this data up with traffic patterns and other factors to determine an optimal route for the day. This will soon be a reality on the CloudCompli platform. As we look further out, NOAA recently announced a partnership with Microsoft, Google, the Open Cloud Consortium, and others, focused on “unleashing its vast resources of environmental data.” While it’s unclear what exactly this partnership will look like, we’re optimistic about opportunities to draw on even more data.

On-site instrumentation is another area of active growth. WUnderground removes the need to check rain gauges manually, but this is just a start. In other areas of construction operations, there’s been a dramatic increase in networked instrumentation. For example, Skanska USA recently implemented an environmental monitoring system that provides contamination notifications in real time, replacing aging monitors that had to be checked by hand. For stormwater, several newer monitoring station, such as the Telog RU33 and the Hach FL900 offer network connectivity. In the future, we expect to see more and more networked components on the site that can help with everything from sampling to mitigating actions.

Unfortunately, simply increasing the amount of networked equipment at the site does not necessarily mean increasing operational efficiency. This information must be tied together properly. At CloudCompli, we’re working on this exact problem, tying together various feeds to provide consistent, meaningful and actionable information about a site and its needs. Tying this information together properly will enable an “infrastructure that can react to its environment like a living thing.” Envision a compliance space where storm events are anticipated and automatically adapted to. This isn’t all that far out. Just as the electricity industry is investing in a smart grid, the future of stormwater is interconnected and self-adapting.