Last Friday was my final field day in Kenya, but it had a little bit of everything: eating pineapple slices on a stick, sitting in traffic jams, a boat ride to Mbita, a broke-down matatu, and of course a successful installation with excited and helpful geography students of St. Williams Osodo Secondary School.
St. Williams, located in rural Osodo, was founded in 2002 by the local Catholic Church that sits on the school property. The school sits on a hilltop at 1280 m in this undulating region about 10 km from the coast of Lake Victoria, overlooking a dry landscape where cactus-like candelabra euphorbia and acacia trees dot the dusty relief. After Zach Dunn and I visited St. Williams on Monday to discuss TAHMO with Mr. Pius, the school principal and research enthusiast on community engagement in education, I had returned to install their weather station.
The geography students gathered around in the noontime heat and I set about explaining how a TAHMO weather station works. The students had all studied weather and climate topics in class, but usually only learn the concepts theoretically, such as the names of the instrumentation that measure different weather variables – sometimes without seeing photos of the devices, let alone handling the sensors. Mr. Pius and several of the geography teachers had operated manual weather stations with students in the past, taking daily measurements and keeping record books, but AWS (automatic weather stations) are uncommon in the Kenya secondary school arena. The TAHMO weather station we install measures all of the basic meteorology parameters (wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, rainfall, solar radiation) but does so with a novel compact device that has no moving parts. The anemometer we deploy is especially contrasted to the wind vanes and wind socks that Kenyan students are familiar with; it measures wind speed and direction by transmitting and receiving sonic signals, whose phase difference are proportional to the wind speed.
After answering a few questions about how the solar panel would charge the station on cloudy days (answer: solar panels can charge with direct and diffuse sunlight), we installed the station. Several students and teachers helped hold each component in place as we screwed the sensors onto a pole mounted in concrete and plugged our sensors into the data logger. Although some students were dubious about how water-proof the logger case was, I assured them not to worry and encouraged them to test its durability themselves by looking up whether the station was recording measurements after the first torrential rainfall of the season.
The long rains usually run from March to June in western Kenya, but this year they’ve been late in arriving. Osodo hasn’t seen rainfall in months, and the schools administration is eagerly awaiting signs of the long rains to supply their rainfall catchment system with a source of water that is more economical than hiring a tanker truck to deliver it. You, too, can keep track of St. Williams’ rainfall on the TAHMO data portal here – just plot precipitation and I hope you’ll see that the rains have finally begun!