Standard weather reports give only a sense of real weather conditions. On the ground, temperature often varies according to tree cover, road paving, and the amount of traffic or industry in an area. A TV report just tells you the temperature for a whole area, brushing over these differences.
That’s why Nicholas Rajkovich, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, wanted to kit out his bike with a bunch of sensors and ride around Cleveland. It’s only by going foot-by-foot, he says, that you get a sense of what the environment is really like.
“Typically when you see a weather report, it’s from the airport where the main weather station is at,” he says. “It gives you a good idea of what’s going on at the regional scale. But It doesn’t let you know what’s happening in particular low-income neighborhoods, where they have less tree cover and a lot more asphalt than some of the higher-income neighborhoods.”
The urban heat island effect, as this phenomenon is known, can increase a city’s temperature by three to five degrees compared to the countryside. That means higher power costs for air conditioning and possible health dangers. “If you care about [people suffering from] heat stress, it’s important to know where the hotspots are in the city, so you can set policy for the positive,” Rajkovich says.
To turn his bike into a mobile weather station, Rajkovich added sensors for types of radiation, ground surface temperature, and humidity, plus cameras for road and “sky views” (to assess the tree cover), and GPS and data loggers. In all, the equipment weighed more than 50 pounds. “I received a lot of funny looks from people,” he says. “I was little worried about the police at first, so I actually talked to them before going on the bike.”
Bikes give better reading than cars with the same equipment, because you can go to more places and you’re not getting false readings because of the car’s own heat, Rajkovich says. He thinks everyday cyclists could help contribute weather readings, if they were given equipment to do so.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for gathering data on commutes and people wouldn’t need as much equipment as I had. When you have people participating in science, it’s a great thing,” Rajkovich says.