Ocean Observing Supports Recreational Opportunities at Local Florida Park

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Fred Howard Park, located on the Gulf of Mexico in the City of Tarpon Springs, Pinellas County, Florida, is a popular destination for kite surfers, wind surfers, kayakers, and beachcombers. Visitors come from an hour or more away on a regular basis to use this unique area for its recreational opportunities. Knowing the weather and wind conditions in the area is a big deciding factor that helps them to plan their activities in the park. In addition, its physical location, jetting into the Western Gulf of Mexico, provides valuable advance water level and coastal inundation information to local emergency management personnel during extreme weather events.

The Fred Howard Park meteorological/tidal station is a part of the University of South Florida’s (USF) Coastal Ocean Monitoring and Prediction System (COMPS). Initial site funding was via a cooperative effort between USF/COMPS, a State of Florida Emergency Management Preparedness and Assistance Trust Fund (EMPATF) competitive grant, the Pinellas County Park System, and the City of Tarpon Springs Office of Emergency Management. Physically located on the southwest corner of the second causeway bridge, it became an operational COMPS weather station in June 2004.

In September 2008, the causeway bridges needed replacement, and the station was removed during construction for over a year. During the down time, COMPS Program Director Cliff Merz received many inquiries about the status of the station and when/if it would be back online. The information from this station was used by a variety of people who wanted to know water and air temperature to determine if conditions were safe for water sports, and the wind speed and gusts guide when conditions will be peak for wind and kite surfing. The users were able to access the data through the COMPS web site and it was also linked to and accessed frequently from a local water sports store Web site. Bruce Snyder, the head of the non-profit Friends of Fred Howard Park, estimates between 500-600 users accessed the information from the station to plan their trips to the park. Water level data was used by local emergency management offices for flooding and inundation purposes and after event analysis.

Merz understood the demand for the data, but was not certain there would be funding available to reinstall the station when the bridge repairs were complete. Fortunately, through selective reuse of suitable original site equipment, USF College of Marine Science funding support, availability of limited EMPATF/COMPS instrument sparing, and Pinellas County support, the site’s meteorological measurement capability was able to be restored. Unfortunately, limited follow-on operation and maintenance funds exist. The Friends of Fred Howard Park heard of this and decided to help. The group raised over $1,500 through donations of profits from wind surfing lessons held at the park to support continued station operation.

The Fred Howard Park COMPS station is now back online with a full suite of meteorological sensors, providing the public with wind speed and air temperature (among other parameters).  Additionally, through funding from SECOORA, USF COMPS was able to restore the water level and temperature/salinity sensors at the coastal station in time for the 2012 Hurricane Season. The meteorological data, in conjunction with the water level data, are an invaluable resource for state and local emergency managers and the National Weather Service personnel since they rely on this data to issue weather-related warnings and alerts for residents of Pinellas County and surrounding regions.

Ocean observing data supports a variety of uses from recreation to emergency management. Having the most reliable marine data will ensure protection of people and property, a healthy marine economy, and sustainable natural coastal and ocean resources. SECOORA and member organizations like USF are working together with stakeholders to provide these critical services.

For more information about the Fred Howard Park meteorological/tidal station, please contact Cliff Merz, Mark Luther or Jeff Scudder.

For more information about SECOORA, please contact Debra Hernandez, Executive Director.

The image is the Fred Howard Park meteorological/tidal station.