What do you get when you combine a group of enthusiastic pilots, web technology experts, and some of the foggiest weather on the planet? If you live in Humboldt County on the north coast of California, you get web cameras at six airports to help with weather observation.
Humboldt County, located some 200 miles north of San Francisco, is known for its rugged coastline, potent marijuana, a state university, fishing and timber industries, and for the diversity of its weather. It is not unusual for the northern end of the county to be under hard IFR, while the southern end is CAVU.
The proximity to the Pacific Ocean on the west and mountains to the east means rapidly changing conditions, says Emily Jacobs, program coordinator for Humboldt County Aviation Division.
“Our weather is very dynamic,” she notes.
Humboldt County is known as one of the foggiest places in the world, so much so that during World War II the United States military built what is now known as the Arcata-Eureka Airport (KACV) for the purpose of testing fog removal technology. In 1947 the first ILS approach of an airliner happened at KACV.
Today, KACV is a non-towered airport served by a commercial air carrier in addition to having an active general aviation component. In addition, there are three reliever fields in the county: Kneeland Airport (O19) and Murray Field (KEKA) in Eureka, which is the main population center of the county, and Rohnerville Airport (KFOT) a few miles to the south in the community of Fortuna. Another county airport, Garberville Airport (O16), some 52 miles south of Eureka, also recently got a web cam for weather.
The weather cameras were installed by volunteers and funded through private individuals and several aviation organizations, including the local chapters of the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Ninety-nines.
Leading the way was the Lost Coast Aviators, EAA Chapter 1418. The weather camera project began in 2010, according to Steve Bowser, chapter president, as a discussion among the pilot community.
“When the project began, the county already had a few cameras in place for security purposes,” he recalls. “But they didn’t show the approaches to the airports. Being able to see the field and the approaches is very useful.”
It is not unusual, says Bowser, for a pilot to be in a sunny weather a few miles east of the coast and have a curtain of dense fog over the airports. More insidious is that sometimes the fog rolls in so rapidly that one end of the airport will be VFR while the other end is IFR.
The cameras are positioned to show the four cardinal compass points — North, South, East and West — to give pilots a more complete view of the weather at and around the airport. The images update every 15 to 30 seconds.
The first weather camera went into place in Rohnerville in 2011, and the others followed over time.
Bowser says that the two EAA members who contributed the most time to the project, Randall Locke and Hans Koster, aren’t pilots, but they enjoy aviation, web technology and are skilled technicians.
Koster, he notes, hosts the most popular webpage in Humboldt County, SunnyFortuna.com.
“When we started the web camera project, Locke’s daughter Lindsay, who was a teenager at the time, was the president of our EAA chapter and her youthful energy really pushed the project forward,” adds Bowser.
It took a lot of community support to get all the cameras installed, says Bowser, and there are a lot of people to thank.
Cal-Ore Life Flight, a local air ambulance company, and Joel Mann, a Central Valley businessman, stepped up with funding for the camera installation at Murray Field Airport. The airport is home to Northern Air, an FBO that donated the facilities necessary for the project.
The cameras at Garberville Airport (O16) were paid for by several local pilots, including Dennis Lichty, Gerald Meyers, Jesse Graty, Brian Winterberg, Roy Smith, Ben Wilke, Dave Winters, Brad Davis, and Fred Baron, with material contributions from Garth Epling, the owner of Emerald Technologies.
In addition to the county sponsored airports, the group also oversaw the installation of web cams at Shelter Cove Airport (0Q5).
The Shelter Cove Airport cams were funded by the Shelter Cove Property Owners Association, Dan Gribi, and Shelter Cove Pilots Association president Mike Caldwell, who owns the Inn of the Lost Coast, a popular tourist destination adjacent to the airport. Caldwell provided mounting sites, funding and bandwidth for four of the seven cameras.
Shelter Cove homeowner Joe Gattuso, along with Eric Marshall, Don Simmons and the Tres Amigos Flying Club of Shasta Calif., also contributed funds. In addition, donations were raised by a local radio station host, Richard Weber. Local pilot and veterinarian Roy Smith allowed three of the cameras to be placed on his home.
The members of the Lost Coast Aviators EAA Chapter 1418 also paid for the installation of an upgraded router at Shelter Cove.
“The cameras, while not taking the place of a weather briefing, do allow pilots to get a more complete picture of the weather situation,” says Rose Hanan, a 3,400-hour pilot and a part-time CFI working out of Murray Field. Hanan is also the chapter chairman of the Redwood Coast Flyers, the local chapter of the Ninety-nines. The Ninety-nines donated $500 to the camera project.
“An ASOS and AWOS only show the view straight up,” she continues. “That view is not necessarily accurate when you have fog moving in. They are also useful in watching trends in the weather — is the fog moving in or out? Also, the cameras are useful for areas that do not have automated weather, such as Shelter Cove, which is a popular place to fly.”
“The web cams have been a great resource,” says Hanan, adding that it’s a good thing to have the expanded weather technology because general aviation is on the rise in Humboldt County. “Although we tend to be isolated, in the last year I have been seeing a lot more people coming out to take flying lessons. There is definitely an uptick in activity.”
The Lost Coast Aviators are understandably proud of the camera project, so much so that it has a website, NorthCoastAviation.com, that has a how-to section for anyone interested in installing weather cameras at their airport.