Weather Watch

New weather station transforms elementary school students into mini-meteorologists

Annalie Dixon (2nd grade), left, and Linnea Johnson (3rd grade) analyze weather data from the Branch Elementary School’s weather station in Arroyo Grande.
Annalie Dixon (2nd grade), left, and Linnea Johnson (3rd grade) analyze weather data from the Branch Elementary School’s weather station in Arroyo Grande. Courtesy photo

Last week, a Davis Instruments Vantage Pro 2 weather station — which measures, minute by minute, temperatures, rainfall, wind speed and direction, humidity, barometric pressure and even peak solar radiation — was skillfully installed by Branch Elementary School’s maintenance department and Chris Arndt of PG&E funded the station with an educational grant.

Not only is Branch Elementary School in Arroyo Grande now an important weather observation station for meteorologists throughout the Central Coast, but at the same time the school added a new learning tool to their excellent science program. The school’s science classroom is one of best I’ve ever seen. Seriously, their science lab rivals some of those found at universities — it’s that good.

Donna Verbeckmoes and physician Lawrence “Dr. Larry” Vredevoe, whose children and grandkids attend Branch Elementary, created science labs that expose students to a different discipline each semester along with other members of Branch Elementary School’s Science Advisory Committee. The labs have covered areas such as physics and chemistry, environmental science, biology, agriculture, electronics and robotics. They also take science field trips to Lopez Lake, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Central Coast Aquarium and the Dana Adobe in Nipomo.

“Our incredible science advisory committee works hard to create high-interest, exciting science labs for our students,” Branch Elementary School Principal Hillery Dixon said. “They make our students into great scientists!”

The weather station also develops a sense of school community by letting families see the station’s real-time weather data online from any location in the world. Students and parents can use the weather information to decide how to dress for school and after-school activities. The school also is located right in the center of some of the region’s most productive agricultural land — and local farmers will undoubtedly be glad for the additional weather information. You can view data from the Branch Elementary station and other Central Coast locations at

Accurate weather forecasts are important to farmers, ranchers and other businesses, but also to an electric and gas utility such as PG&E, which has to know about heat waves, heavy rains and winter storms that could impact the system. The spread of reliable and accurate weather stations that report in real time over the Internet have increased weather forecast accuracy.

These weather stations are well-suited to regions such as the Central Coast, which has an abundance of microclimates. For weather watchers, it is fascinating to compare their community’s rainfall totals and temperature ranges with those in other parts of the state. For many, it’s a source of pride that their location recorded more rain than somebody else’s.

For agriculturalists, with crops that are susceptible to freezing in winter — such as avocados or oranges — the information is crucial in knowing when to activate wind machines and other frost-protection equipment.

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PG&E has partnered with The Movie Experience to offer a free showing of the holiday film The Polar Express starring Tom Hanks on Sunday, Dec. 4, at the Fremont Theater at 1035 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. and the movie will begin at 6 p.m. Instead of the cost of admission, PG&E is asking attendees to donate one unwrapped gift per family. These presents will be collected at the door and given to underprivileged children throughout San Luis Obispo County during this holiday season. Entrance to the film is on a first-come, first-served basis. The maximum occupancy of Fremont Theater is 700 guests.

John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is PG&E’s Diablo Canyon marine meteorologist and a media relations representative. Email him at or follow him on Twitter: @PGE_John.