An artist's rendering of the WeatherBug apparatus.
January 18, 2012 | 08:21 AMPELL LAKE — For those who live near Star Center Elementary School, there's really no such thing as a local televised weather report.
Sure, they can watch the weather on the news — or even the Weather Channel — but the data they see isn't technically local. Take the major network stations. Many of them are located in Milwaukee, Chicago or even Madison and Rockford, Ill.
"You kind of have to look at three different channels to find out whether it's going to be colder here or not, to find out how you should dress today," said Kristin Hunsaker, reading teacher at Star Center. "That's important, especially if you've got to go outside with the kids for recess."
The need to know what the weather will be isn't just about dressing for it. Safety and education figure into why Star Center staff and district residents are raising money to install a WeatherBug station at the school.
Hunsaker, Star Center Principal Betsy Schroeder and fifth-grade teacher Michelle Lambert discussed the benefits of having WeatherBug. If the school can raise about $5,000, it can install WeatherBug and have the local weather featured on Fox 6 Milwaukee news and the WeatherBug cell phone app.
"Our main reason was to draw attention to the area, but WeatherBug has a lot of safety devices," Lambert said.
Schroeder said last year, she was contacted by Fox 6 Milwaukee because "they were looking for some more weather stations in the southern part of the county." She said a weather station existed at Badger High School, but she suspects it was part of an older system and hasn't been updated.
The current version of the WeatherBug system people at Star Center are raising money for is the standard package, which includes a digital display, and a lightning detection/early warning system, Schroeder said.
That means no high-definition camera, so if this is installed, don't expect to see any shots from Star Center on TV. However, Schroeder said the temperature and other weather data from the area would be broadcasted on Fox 6.
"We would have this weather information immediately (with WeatherBug) and I think this would help the weather service make better calls locally," she said.
Theoretically, this could improve weather forecasts and provide better information, say, on those days when it's snowing in Pell Lake, but the TV meteorologists don't know about it so they're telling viewers there's no winter precipitation.
But Schroeder, Lambert and Hunsaker said WeatherBug has more serious benefits.
"It can set off tornado alarms with our local fire department and can (transmit) that information right away," Lambert said.
Schroeder said the benefits wouldn't just be for the community, although that's a primary reason for seeking a WeatherBug station.
Lambert said there are "thousands of things that teachers and students would have access to" on WeatherBug, including actual storm footage and data which would enhance teaching in several subjects — not just science and math, but creative writing by helping to provide students with pictures to describe and geography.
"This would just make our curriculum pop," she said.
Star Center students also could use local weather data to conduct other worthwhile research projects, Schroeder said, adding WeatherBug has 8,000 tracking stations and 1,200 cameras located at schools nationwide.
"For example, we can take Pell Lake's information and compare it with Washington D.C.'s," she said.
Schroeder said technology is how children learn best these days, and with WeatherBug, not only is it expected to enhance the learning experience but help the community.
"This is just one way we can make learning about the weather meaningful to our kids and provide a service to Pell Lake, Genoa City and Lake Geneva, too," she said.
"It's a one-stop shop for verified weather information," Lambert said. "We don't have to go all over the Internet to look up a forecast and worry that it's not even going to be true."
Although it's not cheap, Star Center has received some help in covering about half the cost of a WeatherBug station already.
According to Schroeder, it would cost more than $10,000 to build and install it in Star Center.
"It is costly and actually, the HD cameras and things make it more costly, but we are working with Modern Woodmen of America on a matching grant," she said. "We're going to work that out this spring."
Fox 6 already committed to a $1,000 grant, Schroeder said, and to date, the Star Center PTO contributed $3,000 toward the WeatherBug station.
Star Center also will save money on installation costs by having it done in-house. Schroeder said Dan Schmidt and Bret Braden can install WeatherBug. That move and the Fox 6 grant have brought the total for the station down to $8,600.
Meanwhile, according to Schroeder, a bake sale in conjunction with the school's holiday concert in December helped raise $500. Another fundraiser is planned for Monday, Jan. 30, at Upper Crust. See next week's Regional News for more specifics about that event.
As of Dec. 16, 2011, Star Center has raised about $3,662 for the WeatherBug station.
"We're just really excited to get it in here and play around with it," Schroeder said. "I feel like, if we can produce one meteorologist because of this, then it's worth it."