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On-site weather station keeps AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic informed

by Dan Rosen

Preparations continue on the field as plywood and ice mats are put in place as the dasher boards start going up at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Matt Becker has set up a weather station in the Italian Alps. He spent a year working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, once setting up a weather station in the Rio Grande to measure ground water pollution.

This week, though, he has brought his science to a whole different stage.

This week, Becker, an Associate Professor of Geology at the University at Buffalo, is monitoring the weather inside Ralph Wilson Stadium as workers turn the home of the Buffalo Bills into a hockey rink for the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).

Becker, who says he’s a Sabres fan and attends games at HSBC Arena, never once thought his profession as a hydrologist would take him inside the game of hockey.

“No, this was not in my plan,” Becker told “It’s actually, technically quite a challenge because we’re not trained to monitor weather in structures. Nobody is ever asked to monitor weather in these kinds of conditions. We’re usually in natural environments and big open areas. It was technically quite a challenge to find something that we would consider to be representative for the stadium because the wind is going in all different directions and all different speeds.”

Becker, who is working with Dale Hess, a Ph.D. student in the Geology Department at the University at Buffalo, set up a weather station at Niagara Falls to measure air movement. Becker said he is thrilled to be a part of what many Buffalonians are calling the biggest sporting event to ever come to their city.

”Of course, it’s interesting, for nothing else but bragging rights to be involved,” Becker said. “I go to Sabres games. I’m a fan. I thought it was a pretty neat opportunity.”

Becker is here for two specific reasons: To satisfy requirements in regards to the League’s insurance policy for the event, and to keep the workers informed of what type of weather conditions they’re going to be working in.

“If they can’t work and they can’t set up, they need documentation that the wind was too hard, or it was raining too hard, or it was too warm to make ice,” Becker said. “We also are putting the weather up on the Internet, and it’s being updated every 15 minutes. Anybody involved in setting this up can see what is going on.”

Becker and Hess are not acting as the local weather men.

“I’m not predicting anything for them,” he said. “This allows them to look and for example say; ‘The wind is steady at 20 miles per hour so we can’t do anything right now. Everybody has to sit and wait.’ I’m more of a resource to them.”

The biggest resource of all is the weather station Becker and Hess have set up.

The station is located on the sideline of the press box side of the field, roughly in line with the 50-yard line. It’s small and set up on a tripod that is being held down by at least a dozen sand bags, but it monitors everything they need, minus snow fall.

“The little thing spinning around is measuring wind speed and the little weather vain is measuring direction,” Becker said, looking at the station from inside the press box, where he has a station set up with computers and other equipment to read the data.

“We have a cup on top to measure rainfall. It’s a tipping bucket that goes back and forth. We are measuring temperature and humidity, and the whole thing is running on solar. It’s wireless and transmits up to the console here in the press box that logs all of this. So, we’re keeping track of the weather every 15 minutes.”

Becker and Hess have rotated shifts at Ralph Wilson Stadium since Monday, when they set up the station. Although, because of the Internet site, they don’t have to be here close to 24 hours a day like some of the workers putting the rink together. That doesn’t mean they’re not obsessing over their portion of this giant NHL event.

“Dale has his iPhone and he’s constantly checking the web site,” Becker said. “Yesterday I was with my wife’s family in Syracuse for holiday dinner, and luckily they have Wi-Fi. On Christmas Day, too. I’m always by the computer.”

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