A professor is riding this high-tech ‘weather bike’ around Cleveland

A sky-view camera affixed to Nicholas Rajkovich's bicycle-based weather station captured an image every minute during each of his 12 rides through the Cleveland area in summer 2012. It's part of Rajkovich's climate resilience research. (Credit: U. Buffalo)

It’s a bizarre scene: A man on a cargo bike loaded with lots of strange-looking equipment labors up and down the streets of Cleveland and surrounding suburbs.

Nicholas Rajkovich received more than a few looks of disbelief while riding his odd bicycle through northern Ohio a few summers ago. But the bike is a lot more than just a curiosity: It’s a weather station on wheels, designed to compile microclimate data, such as solar radiation, sky view, surface temperature, and air temperature.

weather-station bike
Rajkovich designed and built his bicycle-based weather station in conjunction with the University of Michigan, from which he received his PhD. (Credit: U. Buffalo)

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has installed a research-grade weather station on a bicycle to gather this much data for analysis,” says Rajkovich, assistant professor of architecture at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning.

“Although airport weather stations and satellite data help to estimate temperatures in a city, finer-scale data is needed to support planning at the neighborhood level,” he adds.

This granular level of information helps explain how things like tree cover contribute to variations in ground and air temperatures in different neighborhoods within an urban area. It will help urban planners and policy makers develop neighborhood-level programs that can mitigate the impact of climate change on cities and their residents.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has installed a research-grade weather station on a bicycle.”

Rajkovich used a cargo bicycle for its heavier frame and enhanced stability while carrying a large load—the equipment weighs approximately 50 pounds. He affixed a thermocouple unit, a hygrometer unit, and a GPS device to a 6.5-foot-tall aluminum tower positioned on the back of the bicycle to avoid ground interference.

The bike was also equipped with a camera, a four-component net radiometer, and an infrared radiometer. Readings were taken every second; a data logger averaged the measurements for each minute, storing the information on an onboard hard drive.

Rajkovich took 12 rides during the summer of 2012—each during the hottest part of the day, typically late afternoon—on bicycle paths maintained by Cleveland Metroparks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

[No, butterflies won’t affect the weather forecast]

The bike piqued plenty of interest along his travels, Rajkovich says. At one point when he stopped to take a break, a family of four rode up on their bicycles and asked him what he was doing.

“After a pleasant conversation, they wished me luck with the project and started again on their way,” Rajkovich says. “As they rode away, one of the children asked their parents why I just didn’t watch the TV to understand how warm it was outside.”

An urban heat island is a built-up area that is hotter than the surrounding rural areas due to human activity. Urban heat islands pose greater public health risks because they contribute to increased electrical demand associated with air conditioning and increase ground-level smog.

The data the mobile weather station collects can help drive decisions on preventative programs, such as cooling centers or tree-planting initiatives. The city of Cleveland is using the data, in part, to help target their urban tree-planting program.

Cuyahoga County served as a good test region because of its susceptibility to high temperatures due to a large number of impervious surfaces and a lack of tree cover. And while Lake Erie provides a cooling effect in the summer, heat waves across the Midwest have risen over the past six decades, and humidity is projected to increase in the area in the coming years.

Rajkovich developed the bicycle weather station as a PhD candidate working with Larissa Larsen, associate professor of urban and regional planning and natural resources at the University of Michigan, coauthor of the findings that are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Rajkovich received funding from the Kresge Foundation to develop climate resilience strategies for Cleveland and other at-risk urban areas.

Source: University at Buffalo