Hilton Head Island High School has received the necessary funding and the go-ahead to install a full-service WeatherBug monitoring and alert system that will serve the entire Hilton Head schools cluster.
The weather station will be located at the new Island Recreation Center building, scheduled for completion in spring of 2018.
The primary intention for the new system is to increase student safety, according to Amanda O'Nan, principal of the high school. "During sports seasons, all coaches can receive any weather or lightning strikes (information) instantly and can take action as needed," she said.
In case of emergency, a warning strobe light and siren will alert anyone outside, including PE and ROTC students, even elementary students and teachers on nearby playgrounds and athletic fields.
In addition, everyone who has downloaded the WeatherBug app can receive notifications on their mobile devices.
O'Nan credited Shaun Zink, the high school's athletic trainer, for seeing the project to fruition.
Zink will be able to use the data gathered by the WeatherBug system to send push notifications directly to coaches' phones regarding weather conditions. With these notifications, Zink can create a standardized way to let coaches know when to begin preparing for a potential evacuation.
"We're trying to make it safer for our athletes by making sure everyone is following the same guidelines," said Zink. "Everyone has access to the same objective information to determine when it is and isn't safe."
This new standard prioritizes student safety through communication and awareness. School staff will be able to plan ahead and focus their attention on their duties while the WeatherBug system gathers the weather data.
"Now I can get kids prepared for practice without having to sit and look at my computer," Zink said. "Instead of having to go look for information, I get information sent directly to me."
WeatherBug is a brand owned by Earth Networks that provides live data through a network of more than 8,000 weather stations across the country. The company offers a number of comprehensive solutions to help enterprises, governments, schools and others gain access to local weather forecasts and manage severe weather alerts.
"At the heart of WeatherBug is a scientific-grade weather station," said Diane Huettig, a senior account manager for WeatherBug in Germantown, Md. "It houses a state-of-the-art weather sensor suite that tracks 27 different weather parameters hyper-locally, all in real time."
The closest WeatherBug station to the Hilton Head schools cluster sits atop the Sea Pines Country Club, but school officials felt that a localized WeatherBug station would provide a more accurate rendering of weather conditions for those on the north end of the island.
Even before the complete system is installed, anyone can download the free WeatherBug application on a smartphone. Those who download the application will also have access to Spark, a WeatherBug safety features that uses a phone's GPS to turn it into a personal lightning detector, measuring the distance between you and the nearest lightning strikes.
The Rec Center plans to break ground on its new addition in the next 60 days, said Frank Soule, executive director of Island Rec. He said it will take an estimated 18 months of construction and outfitting for the building to host the new system.
"We're very excited to be able to work with the schools to become a WeatherBug station," Soule said. "With this opportunity, we're able help monitor our community and use the advanced technology to keep people in the area safer."
The new building will be the tallest structure near the schools, allowing the weather station to gather data as accurately as possible.
The WeatherBug application is available on both Android and iPhone devices and is free to download. For more information regarding Earth Networks and their WeatherBug system, visit www.earthnetworks.com.
Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Hilton Head Sun.