Warren County

Jefferson Project providing Lake George forecasts

Weather forecasts tied to high-tech research being done on Lake George
View of Lake George from the second story of Fort William Henry in May 2019
PHOTOGRAPHER:
View of Lake George from the second story of Fort William Henry in May 2019

Categories: News, Saratoga County

LAKE GEORGE — Boaters planning to use Lake George, homeowners planning a weekend or hikers interested in the forecast for Shelving Rock all have a new tool for getting location-specific weather forecasts for the lake.

The Jefferson Project, a 7-year-old scientific monitoring and research project at the lake, is making its weather data available to the public at jeffersonproject.live, project officials announced on Tuesday.

That means people can look at much of the scientific data the Jefferson Project is gathering through sensors about temperature, salinity and pH in the lake, as well as forecasts for a body of water whose weather is notoriously variable.

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Lake George is 32 miles long from north to south, and surface conditions and forecasts can vary considerably in the southern and northern basins, especially when storms are coming.

“The lake can very dramatically from the village of Lake George to Ticonderoga,” said Eric Siy, executive director of the Fund for Lake George. “It is surrounded by mountains, and the weather can change almost hour by hour.”

The Jefferson Project is a high-tech collaboration between IBM Research, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the Fund for Lake George, which are working together to research and protect the water quality of the lake, which is a central feature of the multi-billion-dollar recreational economy in the southeastern Adirondacks. The stated goal is to make Lake George “the Smartest Lake in the World.”

“Our models are compared daily to the data from our sensors to be validated, and then we can adjust the models based the data from the sensors,” said Harry Kolar, an IBM research fellow and associate director of the Jefferson Project. “We are continuously refining the models.”

Weather forecasting, while it can seem commonplace, is in fact one of the most data-intense uses there is for high-performance computers, with so much variable data needing to be analyzed to create a forecast. IBM makes the kinds of computers that do that work, and in 2016 acquired The Weather Company. Today nearly all the weather data used in television forecasts comes from IBM computing systems, Kolar said.

The Lake George data, however, is a step beyond what is available in commercial weather forecasts in terms of fine-tuning a forecast. It allows for making separate forecasts even for the tiny island campsites that dot the lake’s narrows.

“I’ve watched bands of rain come in. It’s really uncanny how accurate it is,” Kolar said during a Zoom press conference on Tuesday.

The new forecast dashboard is the only publicly available display of Deep Thunder, IBM’s trademarked forecasting technology. It allows users access to view hour-by-hour forecasts for specific parts of the lake. The available forecast includes air temperature, wind speed, wind gusts, visibility, and rain and snow rates and accumulations. The forecast can be localized to within six-tenths of a mile — a kilometer — throughout the lake’s watershed.

The system uses real-time data from five weather stations along the lake, from sensor stations on four of the lake’s tributaries and more than 50 sensor platforms and 500 “smart sensors” distributed in and around the lake.

The sensors monitor the weather, the water quality of streams that feed the lake, the water conditions from the lake surface to the lake bottom, and the lake’s circulation patterns. That immense volume of physical and chemical data is fed into powerful computer models, which can be used for the public forecast and for a wide variety of modeling experiments to pinpoint existing threats to the lake’s health, identify future threats, and develop solutions to protect the lake and the people and wildlife who rely on it, project officials said.

The Deep Thunder system combines data from the project’s weather stations with other meteorological information to provide scientists with The Jefferson Project data to help them better understand the weather’s influence on the lake’s water quality and ecosystem.

In some ways, the public forecast is just a side benefit from the data being gathered in an effort to predict the long-term trends in the lake, and how to address negative trends as the climate changes or road salt runoff increases.

One application of the forecasting data might be to guide municipal road crews in where to spread, and not spread, winter road salt, Siy said. “This will allow a much more targeted, even surgical, approach to applying road salt,” Siy said.

The Jefferson Project gets its name from an observation by Thomas Jefferson, who in 1791 said, “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw.”

“People care about Lake George. It is the ‘Queen of American Lakes,'” Siy said.

Reach staff writer Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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