How we became No 2 in Europe
This is the tale of how two small companies have, boldly and without subsidies, managed to develop the second largest network of meteorological radars in Europe.
The twentieth functional radar in Plzen, Czech Republic is yet another piece which completes our network in four countries. And this is just the beginning — as early as this year, we aim to become No 1 in Europe. Meteo France, beware!
The story began eight years ago, borne of a lack of, and desire for more, radar data. This led Idokep.hu and Meteopress to manufacture and build their own precipitation radar. In 2012, the first radar was installed close to the Balaton lake in Hungary. Six years later, there are TWENTY of them.
Complete Coverage of the West
The twentieth radar is located close to the Czech town of Plzeň. This radar is significant not only because it is the twentieth. This one is important to us because it means we will finally cover the entire western part of Czech Republic — the source of many convective cold fronts and storms. Now we will know about these fronts while they are still in Germany, outside our borders, and be able to monitor them passing through our territory, minute by minute.
Respectable Second Place
Purchasing and building a radar is quite a demanding process. Aside from the financial aspect, you need to find a convenient location and obtain permission before actually installing the radar itself.
So imagine repeating this process twenty times. That is exactly what the network of Deutscher Wetterdienst, the German national meteorological institute, has achieved. Like us, it comprises twenty radars, and a slightly bigger budget — 190 million EUR with 30 million EUR earmarked for investments. And 2,300 employees.
Now consider this: The combined turnover of Meteopress in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and Idokep in Hungary is less than 1% of that, and yet we still managed to install the same number of radars.
The area in which we monitor storms now amounts to 704,602 km² (with each region being covered by three or more radars). For light precipitation, an area of 278,000 km² is covered.
Why Plzeň is so Special
The Plzeň radar is unique, not just as a round number 20, but also because it has “Radom”, an entirely new type of cover.
Compared to the previous one — which strongly resembled a beer can, as you can check for yourself on our Jihlava radar — the Plzeň radar is just more beautiful to behold. The new shape is rounder and more curvaceous — it’s simply sexier.
Most importantly, it is made of a new material that allows more radar pulses through (for experts, the dielectric constant, specifically the damping is now <0.3 dB, compared to approx. 1.1 dB achieved by the previous radom).
But let’s be realistic…most people don’t care about that, do they? The important thing is that we will see more rain, particularly light precipitation. This radar is simply more sensitive.
Current Network and its Drawbacks
Apart from Plzeň, we have also installed a radar in Spišská Nová Ves. Thus, the number of radars in Slovakia has increased to the total of three, and we only need approximately two more radars to cover the north of the country. Also, we will probably need to install one radar in Poland to cover the east of the country, which is a challenging area to cover by radars.
Operating twenty radars means more work. We control all of them remotely using Arduino microcomputers and GSM modems. Each radar has its own internet provider, lease contract, and specific characteristics and problems; hardware tends to break, invoices get lost, and sometimes lightning strikes the radar.
We encountered an unexpected and curious problem with the radar close to Jihlava. Somebody obviously thought it would be a good target for air gun training. Luckily, it survived.
Was it a sabotage by our competition? Unhappy customers? A field training exercise of an anarchist group? Militia training? Many questions and no answers — your guess is as good as ours!
Shall we Reinstate the Austria-Hungary Monarchy, Sire?
What is the next step with our network? We will focus on expansion in the south. We are just about to conclude a contract with ZAMG, Austrian meteorological institute concerning the second phase of our data quality testing. As part of this, we will install a radar in Upper Austria and create a new radar network.
Then there is Croatia, and the whole Balkan Peninsula. Its radar coverage is either quite poor or non-existent. We can, and want to, rectify this. There has been significant progress in the Croatian project. As I write these words, my colleagues are on their way back from yet another exploration and negotiation trip.
We have found four small airports which are interested in installation of a radar.
And one, slightly bigger one: the International Airport in Zadar.
The contract with the airport is approved and we are applying for a frequency license from the local telecommunication office HAKOM.
Lightning Detection, Cameras and other Gadgets
Incredibly, even we realise there is more to life than radars, so we also take on other fun projects. We are developing our own lightning counter network, which will hopefully produce its first public data this year. Currently, we are tuning the operation of the antennas with the help of radio-amateurs and gathering, cleaning and calibrating the data.
Also, we are releasing weather balloons and learning how to collect data from them. We even install cameras on the balloons, observing the Earth from the stratosphere.
The last release took place as part of the aviation day of Aeroklub Rakovník and it was rather fun — check it out for yourselves:
Analýza letu meteorologického balónu MIČUDA-2 z letiště Rakovník do 35km nad zemíf
Podívejte se sami, co se nám povedlo za kuriozitu 😎
We also install web cameras to be connected to a smart sky reader system we developed. We are currently only at testing phase one, but when we are ready we will be happy to show you these.
We participate in hackathons and provide our data to hackers, programmers and developers.
We will try to realize the idea of the winning team from Hack Fest 2018 in Prague, who programmed a prototype programme connected to weather data.
We want also to provide our data to universities, or indeed to everyone who wants to play with the weather and create something of use. Or to people who have already created something useful and lack data for further operation and development.
Happy Ever After?
In the last two years, we have managed something truly unique. 10 radars in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, development of new parts, and expansion abroad. The project is very demanding, and brings many stressful situations, exacerbated by the fact that we live in a country of sceptics and mockers.
However, the project makes us happy and we are eager to share our enthusiasm with you. The last article received a very positive reaction, and each kind word gives us more energy and a feeling that what we do is meaningful.
We are starting to stretch the limits of our budget. Without that, we would have installed radars in half of Europe — or maybe half the world? Hard to say.
We want to keep pushing the limits of the imaginable and inspire others to do the same. Wish us luck!