Ireland’s third most populated local authority, Fingal County Council, operates with an annual budget of €333m and a workforce of over 1,500.
Local authority workforces hold a wealth of talent and skills. Recognising the wealth of talent and skills in local government workforces, Fingal County Council set up a Chief Executive Innovation Fund in January 2021. Explaining the logic behind the Innovation Fund, Chief Executive AnnMarie Farrelly commented:
“The Innovation Fund was launched to facilitate staff submitting original ideas that can bring greater value to the Council.”
To explore how Fingal County Council’s innovation fund works, LGIU Ireland spoke to Executive Engineer, Kevin Vallely, whose funding through the CE Innovation Fund facilitated the award-winning – Weather Stations for Schools project.
What is the project?
Since 2021, schools across Fingal have been receiving automatic weather stations as part of an effort by Fingal County Council to produce more detailed rainfall, wind speed, wind direction and temperature records for the county. The information collected from the weather stations is visible on Met Éireann’s Weather Observations Website, WOW-IE, providing essential real-time weather data to the public and to Met Éireann, the OPW and Fingal County Council’s flood section.
Structured in two-phases, the project began in 2021 with Fingal County Council issuing 100 rainfall gauges to primary schools and has now further advanced with 27 automatic weather stations installed across Fingal in 2022.
Executive Engineer Kevin Vallely’s successful application for funding from the Chief Executive’s Innovation Fund spearheaded the project with a competition for schools to apply for a rainfall gauge. With a start-up cost of €5,000, 100 schools were selected for a rainfall gauge in 2021.
However, the project soon expanded, with stage two seeing 16 schools receive automatic weather stations. Producing real-time information about rainfall, temperature, wind speed and wind direction, with the Council providing the equipment for free in return for a free site within the school’s grounds.
How has the project advanced?
After looking into the use of weather stations in schools in Ireland, Kevin realised that a local authority had never used school properties to host weather stations.
Aside from the weather stations at Dublin Airport, the 88km coast of Fingal lacked weather stations. So, following the launch of the competition for rainfall gauges in 2021, the project expanded by looking at weather stations which can automatically record and relay a greater array of weather-related data. With 100 schools applying, 16 stations were allocated and started work. At that time the Covid-19 pandemic made entering schools and installing the stations more difficult. As well as that challenge, there were connectivity issues in schools as Wifi was required to connect to the automatic weather stations. Learning about the different weather stations available and coding their integration into wider systems made the project time-consuming but it became a real passion project for Kevin.
Partnerships have been key to the expansion of the project. In addition to the weather stations provided by Fingal County Council under the Chief Executive’s Innovation Fund, three more organisations have agreed to sponsor a wider rollout of weather stations in particular parts of the County. The Office of Public Works supports weather stations for primary schools in Rush, Donabate and Portrane as part of the Outer Rogerstown Estuary Coastal Flooding scheme, while Our Balbriggan sponsors primary schools in Balbriggan. Dublin City Council, in partnership with Fingal County Council, will be sponsoring the St. Margaret’s/Coolquay area, as part of the Santry River Flood Relief scheme.
What has the data provided so far?
One immediate benefit of the new data on wind speed which has been collected from along Fingal’s coastline is that it shows the impacts of climate change. Previously, coastal erosion models relied on wind speed data collected at Dublin Airport. However, with the airport further inland, the provision of weather stations across Fingal’s coast provided more detailed information and showed higher wind speeds than previously modelled for the areas concerned. For instance, in Rush Sailing Club, wind speeds of 84 km/hr were recorded.
In a similar vein, with rainfall gauges now recording across the County, this provides the Council’s Flood section with a key source of information for proactive measures on flooding. Oliver Nicholson, Head of Hydrology at The Office of Public Works indicated that “measurements are used for monitoring climate change, design of flood relief measures, weather forecasting, drought monitoring and flood forecasting”.
With the new data giving a more accurate understanding of river responses to different rainfall depths, the Council’s Flood section can now make more accurate flood predictions and deploy flood protection measures from a new evidence base, allowing for quicker decisions on where and when to deploy measures.
The weather stations also provide a key education resource for Fingal’s schools. Recently, Mr. Vallely has run workshops in schools around the County to show children what the weather station collects, what the data recording means, and how the Council and the Meteorological Service can use this information. Since September 2022, over 1,000 children have attended these workshops, which provide a practical teaching example of the key climate change challenges faced by society. For example, Fingal’s weather stations showed the extreme weather impacts of 2022, with wind speeds of 83.7km/h along the Dublin coastline, and Scoil Bhríde Cailíní in Blanchardstown recorded a high temperature of 32.9 degrees Celsius.
Finally, the community has also availed of the weather stations. Using the local stations and their real-time rainfall data, coaches and referees can see the status and saturation from stations near local GAA pitches and make decisions on cancelling matches a day ahead of the match, while sailing clubs can review local wind and rainfall data ahead of events, avoiding last-minute cancellations and improving safety.
Where do you see the project going in the future?
With the Office of Public Works interested, a pilot scheme could see weather stations in most of the 3,000 national schools in the country, and with climate change accelerating, these stations will be a crucial source of information.
Fingal’s Director of Services for Environment, Climate Action and Active Travel, David Story says: “It was great to see so many schools show an interest in the Weather Stations for Schools project. These automatic weather stations will be able to record wind speed, temperature, rainfall and wind direction. This information will be extremely useful to the OPW, Met Éireann and Fingal’s flood sections.”
Recently, the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program has taken a keen interest in Fingal County Council’s weather stations. Founded in 1994, the GLOBE Program provides students and the public worldwide with the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to our understanding of the Earth system and global environment. Launched in Ireland in 2017, by the Environmental Education Unit (EEU) of An Taisce, the GLOBE Ireland Air Quality Campaign is a citizen-science campaign to assess traffic-related air pollution at schools.
Unlike automatically recorded measurements from Fingal’s weather stations, GLOBE Ireland’s Air Quality Campaign relies on teachers and students in schools using a GLOBE-supplied air quality pack, where three sampling tubes are placed and placed and then returned to GLOBE Ireland for laboratory testing.
The GLOBE program, via the EPA and An Taisce contacted Fingal County Council in early 2022 about the Weather Station for Schools Project. Aileen Bright, GLOBE Ireland Programme Manager, was eager to have a live school from Ireland on the GLOBE program website. This program is sponsored by An Taisce in Ireland and NASA in the USA.
Rush and Lusk ETNS is the first Fingal school to have real-time weather data on GLOBE and went online on 24 December 2022. Other Fingal schools will join throughout Q1 2023 and this data will be available here!
Data is gathered at the school using a Davis weather station that is manufactured in the USA, which links directly to the NASA/GLOBE system online.
The Weather Stations for Schools project not only shows the value of Fingal’s weather stations, it also perfectly demonstrates the wealth of innovation available in local government workforces and how this can have value on a local and global scale.
LGIU Ireland is grateful for Kevin Vallely and the rest of Fingal County Council for providing information on this project. For more on local government innovation in Ireland, sign-up to the LGIU Ireland home page here!