Observation Site Database

Tracking and Recovery Team members, we need your help!

Marty Griffin, WA�GEH, came up with a great idea. Why not compile a database of known excellent observation sites.

This would assist Tracking & Recovery team members by supplying them with KNOWN sites where they would have an excellent unobstructed view of the sky without having to reinvent the wheel for each flight by driving around looking for a good location from which they can easily track the payload.

I will be posting this database here when it starts to grow. Imagine loading all the best observing sites into your GPS and being able to quickly "GO TO" the nearest one. Might be quite handy.

Recently I have added the capability to Balloon Track (the program used to generate pre-flight predictions) to generate a prediction as it relates to any location. See THIS PAGE for details.

Combining Marty's idea with this new capability (and a little additional programming) it's possible to generate a report that indicates the azimuth where the balloon would rise above the horizon, the azimuth of its closest approach the elevation angle at that closest approach, and the azimuth where the balloon or its payloads descend below the horizon FOR EACH SITE in the database. The capability is still brand new but if you check out the Multi-Site Predictor page in the Balloon Track Website you'll get the idea.

This would mean Marty would have a report that he could use to assign Tracking and Recovery team members pre-flight with a fair degree of confidence that they would be in excellent positions to make their direction finding observations.

Many of you who regularly travel the eastern plains of Colorado may have your favorite spots to set up a RDF station. We'd like you to contribute your special knowledge of these ideal locations.

Here is what we are looking for.


  • A unique and short name for the site
  • Latitude and Longitude
  • Altitude
  • Street Address
  • County
  • State
  • Horizon Picture
  • RDF Assessment
  • Road Assessment
  • Parking Assessment
  • A one sentence note. Gives the surveyor of the location the opportunity to add something very specific about the site.
  • Credit - We'll credit each site report with your callsign or name as the original surveyor.

Each Field in Depth


A short unique name for each site is a must if Marty is to be able to clearly assign it to an individual. Anything the surveyor thinks appropriate should work.

In my more active Skywarn days we had several interesting names for specific locations. Barbeque Point was one such name. You're probably thinking someone set up a barbeque and did some weather watching from there. And you'd be wrong. A Skywarn spotter, I believe it was David Richendifer WD�HNQ, was watching storms. He was accompanied by a few cattle at that site. One of the cattle was struck by lightning. Thus ... barbeque point was named.


A decent latitude and longitude for the site. Any real GPS reading from the site will be acceptable. We don't want you to attempt a super-refined fix. Anything within 300 feet or so should be totally adequate. With SA turned off, the average GPS fix is now closer than 100 feet and with WAAS active, closer than 30 feet. And after all, getting that close, a first time visitor to your site should be able to easily spot the exact and perfect location with no trouble at all. So, don't set your GPS to refine the fix, just get a quick snapshot GPS fix and that should be more than adequate.

Altitude is also required to accurately calculate the elevation angle from the site to the airborne balloon.

Street Address

The street address should be somewhat generic. No one's going to know where 53301 E. 120th ave. is but, if you say one mile east of Strasburg Mile Rd on 120th folks will have an easier time finding the location. I'd imagine most of these locations will be county roads so addresses would most likely be CR 42 one mile west of CR 7.


While the GPS coordinates will certainly indicate this, it would be nice to have the county in the database to assist some one in finding the site without having to resort to maps with latitude and longitude information.


Well, you guys do chase off into Nebraska quite frequently.


A picture of the horizon. The database will be enabled for an 8 point picture. But for locations that don't really require that level of detail we would at least want a 4 point picture. We would want you to indicated your best guesstimate of the elevation of the horizon around your site for North, East, South and West.

So, if there is a ridge that runs across the north of the site a mile or two away that rises 5 degrees above the level horizon we'd want you to note N=5, E=0, S=0, W=0.

If you feel it would be wise to be more specific you may also report NE, SE, SW and NW horizons and they will be added to the database.

This info will be of value to the next person who visits the site as they will be better prepared to deal with a slight obscuration of the horizon as indicated by your survey.

HERE IS an excellent site that helps folks figure angles of separation for astronomers using handy body parts. Of course, you can go the instrumentation route. CLICK HERE to see a price comparison on Yahoo Shopping for  inclinometers . Also, check your compass. Many actually include crude inclinometers in them and crude for this purpose is totally adequate. If you're within 5 degrees your data will be just fine.

RDF Quality

A subjective opinion of the possible existence of RDF interference. Say from 1 to 5 where 1 indicates NO interference and 5 indicates a massive RDF warping structures nearby. You've all become aware of what fences, power lines etc. do to RF. Just give us your best guess. Each visitor to the site will make their own appraisal. Don't hesitate to give a 5 to a site if it is really bad for RDF but ideal visually. And be sure to submit that information for the database. Why, well ...

Naturally we'd probably not want any sites with Fives, right? What good is an unlimited horizon with a lousy RDF environment. However, we also plan to share this list with the local Skywarn groups and even if there is a RDF hazard in the area, an unobstructed view of the sky will still be a valuable addition to the database for their observers. As Marty noted in his first suggestion of this idea, Skywarn weather watchers/chasers and EOSS RDF teams are looking for observation sites with almost identical characteristics. We hope to get them to survey some good locations during their storm chasing activities and share those locations with us. So, if you run across a exceptionally good Skywarn observation site with lousy RDF characteristics, you might pass that along for their benefit.

Road Assessment

This would indicate who should dare to venture into this site given varying weather conditions. The assessment should be for the entire journey from the nearest paved road and should be a realistic guide to a new comer to the site as to what they should expect on their drive to the site. Not just a road survey of the immediate vicinity of the site. A preliminary scale might be:

1 = cow path (almost always 4 wheel drive only). Roads rough enough to require the axel clearance afforded by off road 4 wheel drive vehicles.

2 = fairly good 4 wheel drive dirt road (in good weather passable by 2 wheel drive but the slightest inclement conditions render it 4 wheel drive only). Surface level enough to allow NON-OFF ROAD 4 wheel drive vehicles and standard passenger cars clearance)

3 = excellent unpaved county dirt road regularly graded (should be passable by 2 wheel drive except in moderate to severe inclement conditions)

4 = poorly paved hard surface (always passable by 2 wheel drive but a crummy surface)

5 = excellent pavement (highway like conditions, always expected to be passable unless we abort due to severely bad wx which would thwart any vehicle - blizzard or similar conditions)

Parking Assessment

This is NOT redundant! Maybe the site is ideal in every way but there is no place to park the vehicle. Of course, in that case it would be a zero and not be listed at all but ...

1 = Parking very close to but never the less completely off the road on either a shoulder or a flat stable surface that is secure enough that the vehicle will not become stuck. If you have to drive off the road onto unimproved land (no shoulders) then the road assessment above should include the parking site. Will it get so muddy, a two wheel drive passenger car will become stuck. Annotate the road conditions with this in mind. Hand held RDF would be problematic and require due diligence on the part of the team member to not pose a hazard to themselves and vehicles traveling the roadway.

2 = Parking totally off the road available. Wide enough shoulders to ensure the vehicle is TOTALLY away from traffic and has no impact upon it. The limitation that keeps it from being a 3, the portable RDFer might not have any room to walk around the vehicle to get good position fixes thus requiring him or her to venture out onto the road. And, the road is expected to see some traffic during an average duration exercise.

3 = Parking totally off the road again. In this case, the road is so devoid of traffic that the surveyor believes it 99% safe for a Tracking team member to wander about the road as they are extremely unlikely to ever see any traffic or perhaps expect to see one or two vehicles pass during an entire Tracking and Recovery exercise. This is very subjective, I know. But, if you find a place in the middle of nowhere on a county dirt road, that may qualify as a three.

4 = Parking totally off the road. Lots of room for hand held RDF types to meander about gathering position fixes.

5 = A rest area, or parking lot completely separated from the road. In other words, an ideal site from both the traffic and RDF perspective.

Surveyor's Note

A very brief note, preferably one sentence, that adds additional information the surveyor deems important to first time visitors to the site. Maybe something like "Park on the north side of the road".


Each site survey will be credited to the surveyor who found and detailed its geographic and RDF characteristics.

Printing out the "briefly" list above as a checklist, it shouldn't take too long to complete a site survey. You all have GPS units these days, you pulled up at some location that seemed ideal. A few minutes to note these few data points will be an aid to all future Tracking and Recovery team members and if not, then perhaps to some Skywarn spotter who's looking for that perfect vantage point.

That's it for now. This database may grow with the addition of new fields of information that seem particularly relevant information. We'll just have to see what all of you come up with for suggestions.