Asheville is an Epicenter for Climate Science

Have you ever had to sort through the drawers of a dresser, finding it a bit stressful? Is cleaning out a closet a little overwhelming? Does the thought of sorting through all of the items in your garage, or your attic give you a headache? 

Then imagine sorting through, making sense of and organizing 25 petabytes (that's the equivalent of 25 million gigabytes) of data in various forms: charts, graphs, maps and even journal entries. 

That’s the treasure trove of information sitting in the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville. It’s the world’s largest repository of climatological data. The headquarters is in Asheville but there are other locations around the country. NCEI is also a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

To think of that data in a more relateable way, the director of NCEI’s Center for Weather and Climate, Mike Tanner, says that would be the equivalent of stacking 120 GB iPhones as tall as the Eiffel Tower, 16 times. 

Yep, that’s a lot of data! 

Asheville’s association with weather data goes back to World War II, when the federal government took over the Grove Arcade as part of the war effort. It was the largest building in the region. Weather information was coordinated in the Arcade and after the war, as the U.S. was looking to merge all of its weather data, the Grove Arcade was the logical place. 

The National Climatic Data Center, as it was known, was housed in the Grove Arcade from 1951-1995, when the agency moved down the street to the new federal building. 

While NOAA has always made its climate data available to the public, Asheville’s economic development leaders are pushing to utilize that weather of data to build a climate science industry. 

The Collider, a nonprofit co-working space that serves science-based startups, opened in March 2016 and is now a part of that initiative. It houses the American Association of State Climatologists, UNC Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center, and several other start-up companies. These companies and more are working toward further establishing Asheville as an epicenter for climate science.

—Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog! 

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