June/July 2011
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Forecasts Available for Beach Conditions

The University of Toledo and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have created a resource that estimates bacteria levels and provides beach advisories for people using the Lake Erie beaches at Maumee Bay State Park. Called Nowcast, the information will be available at http://www.ohionowcast.info this summer.

In the past, beaches were tested for E. Coli and up to 18 hours later the results of the cultures were announced. Because conditions on Lake Erie can change quickly, that 18-hour gap sometimes meant that beach advisories were posted after conditions had improved or worsened. The new system by UT and the USGS uses predictive data to make an immediate forecast.

Researchers at Dr. Daryl Dwyer’s laboratory at UT’s Lake Erie Center have been working with Donna Francy and others at the USGS to initiate the Nowcast system for Maumee Bay State Park. “We collected weather and environmental data for three years to develop mathematical models to predict E. coli concentrations at Maumee Bay State Park,” said Francy, USGS research hydrologist for the study. “Instead of waiting 18 hours for E. coli to grow in the laboratory, we use quickly measured factors that explain changes in E. coli concentrations, enter them into a computer program, and obtain a Nowcast of recreational water quality in less than two hours.” The factors that are relevant to bacteria levels at the Lake Erie beaches include wind direction and speed, turbidity, amount of sunshine, and lake level. Research has shown that bacteria levels rise following storms (which increase turbidity), and fall when there is lots of sunshine. “By viewing this website, the beachgoer can access this probability factor, but even more importantly, can access an advisory as to the water quality of the beach and if conditions are safe for swimming,” explained Dr. Dwyer.

Partners on the Nowcast team made a presentation at the May 26 meeting of the TMACOG Environmental Council.


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