When is a weather station not a weather station? (And why do they threaten to shoot me?)
December 12, 2008 7:20 PM   Subscribe

What's up with the "weather station" in Tecopa, CA? And why did it threaten to shoot me?

Wile visiting the Tecopa Hot Springs (Tecopa, CA) with some friends a few years ago, we saw a cheerful sign on our motel door inviting us to check out the local weather station. It read something like (paraphrasing because it was a while ago):

"You may be wondering what that funny looking thing by the highway is. Its a WEATHER STATION! It is here to help you. You can learn a lot about the weather, like whether it is currently raining. Come visit us any time for more information.
- US Department of Something Or Other"

So when departing the hot spring vacation, we decided to visit the weather station. The road to it was rough and gravely and there was a warning about rough terrain. We kept going until we got to another sigh that warned us not to take pictures, that we were trespassing, and that if we proceeded any further we could be shot. Thanks a lot Weather Station!

So here's my question. Does anyone know what the deal is with this weather station? Is the government very protective of precipitation data? Is it perhaps something (gasp) other than a weather station?

Any info you talented and knowledgeable MeFites may have is very much appreciated. And for what it's worth, the Hot Springs, and China Ranch Date Farm are incredible. I highly recommend them as vacation destinations, and Mr. Abirae recommends trying the date shakes.
posted by abirae to Law & Government (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I realize not many people are intimately familiar with Tecopa, CA. I'll expand the question to ask "What is typical for a government weather station? Have you seen one with a warning? What else could a small tower of devices and antennae with a warning sign be? (I didn't get a close look at it but it was a drab gray, white and beige tower/shed combo less than 3 stories high with some stuff sticking out. Some gray boxes. Some antennae. A small dish. Pretty much looked like a weather station. Or a super-secret-stealth weather station.)
posted by abirae at 7:54 PM on December 12, 2008

Best answer: Pure speculation - It may have something to do with the super-secret stuff that goes on just over the border in Nevada -Yucca Mountain, Nellis AFB, Area 51 etc. Plus there's a lighted airstrip in Shoshone, which struck me as odd, but could be perfectly legitimate.
One wild guess could be some type of monitoring facility for things going on at the Nevada Test Site. I'm sure the area would be surrounded by sensors (seismic, radiation, or whatever would be needed to analyze the secret testing). I wouldn't be surprised if they had some outliers fairly far from the testing facilities to make sure what happened in Vegas Area 51 stayed there. That it would be advertised as a tourist spot, but then have the US Dept of Scary Stuff signs is kind of puzzling though.
Oh, gotta go, a couple of guys in suits and dark glasses are knocking at my door ...
posted by forforf at 8:19 PM on December 12, 2008

Some other Cubes and I were at a local attraction in late summer - it used to be a ski area, and now is a theme park. We went on the skytram thing, which had a sign saying 'no cameras.' Near the top, not visible from the main park, was a big box, like an electrial thing, surrounded by fence, with some antennae and a dish. It was labelled Homeland Security. We really wanted to take photos then.

There was also a hobo living somewhere nearby, so I'm guessing DHS wasn't too freaked out by him for whatever reason.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 8:24 PM on December 12, 2008

Were you joking about the sign on your motel room?
posted by geoff. at 8:35 PM on December 12, 2008

Response by poster: geof, I wasn't joking. It was on the door to the main office of the motel. It was a weathered color flyer under a plastic sheet with a picture of the weather station and lots of text on it. In retrospect it could have been a local joke, but it had contact info on it (which I didn't think to write down at the time), some more stuff about local construction, and though it looked crummy (not the fanciest typography or layout), I thought it looked crummily official.

forfof, creating a cover for some secret doohickey by advertising it as a tourist attraction (or local civic eyesore), would be some fancy social engineering indeed. And thank you for the cool map of the nevada test sites. It could be some far out outlier data collection site, but it's even further from those bases than Las Vegas, but as they say, it takes a village...
posted by abirae at 8:59 PM on December 12, 2008

Response by poster: Ahoy Cube,
Tres droll! Where was this local attraction ski park?
posted by abirae at 9:10 PM on December 12, 2008

I might be missing something ... but what's a Cube?
posted by chairish at 9:54 PM on December 12, 2008

chairish, check out Weighted Companion Cube's user profile.
posted by GPF at 10:19 PM on December 12, 2008

You probably turned down the wrong road -- onto a private road onto private land, instead of the correct road to the weather station.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:12 PM on December 12, 2008

Some other random possibilities that come to mind are that the right-of-way to the weather station goes through the property of a cranky person (who may not have authority to keep you from using that right-of-way to visit the weather station, but they might put up a sign anyway); that people were vandalizing the weather station and the government decided to close it off; that the weather station has some peripheral involvement in the air traffic control system and thus must be protected from terror in this post-9/11 world.
posted by hattifattener at 11:26 PM on December 12, 2008

Best answer: Could the weather station flyer be outdated? Maybe the site has been repurposed, say by adding sensors for $SCARY_STUFF to already existing instrumentation.

Jacqueline probably has it though --- the flyer mentioned seeing the weather station from the highway, was it visible when you turned into the gravel road?
posted by ghost of a past number at 11:31 PM on December 12, 2008

Sorry, my location does not give things away. It was on a trip to visit friends in Connecticut, and I couldn't remember the name of the park last night. "Lake Compounce." Googling that and DHS doesn't bring up anything useful.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 6:03 AM on December 13, 2008

Response by poster: ghost of a past number, this sounds very possible. The flyer was old (and looked like it had been rained on). The menacing signs did not seem particularly old, but it's hard to compare the two.

Regarding the possibility that we turned down the wrong road: Tecopa really only has two roads. Our hotel was up Hot Springs Road, and the weather station was south of our the hotel, near where would get back on to the Old Spanish Trail Highway. The weather station matched the picture we saw of the flyer and it was visible from the road. We had even noticed the station driving to the hotel (there aren't many landmarks in Tecopa), before we saw the flyer, and that's why we were so excited to see the flyer explaining that it was a weather station, and inviting us to add another stop to our trip.
posted by abirae at 7:00 AM on December 13, 2008

Best answer: Call Buck McKeon's office and ask. Or the WRCC.

The nearest weather station I could find was in Shoshone. Perhaps the sign is one of those typical "lethal force authorized" military signs you see on military bases. Could be a joke or 911 hysteria. There's another weather station 30 miles from there in Pahrump, Nevada.

Sometimes weather stations are set up at airports and you'll see threating signs like these at airports, but not usually with the "we will shoot you" part on it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:11 AM on December 13, 2008

Best answer: Ah, here it is.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:17 AM on December 13, 2008

Best answer: Call the hotel, get them to relay the contact information on the flyer to you. Ask them if they know where the flyer came from and/or when. And if they know anything else about the weather station.

Honestly, the "we will shot you" signs are more to scare people off. For facilities / installations that are that important to fence off from prying public eyes, they do just that - build fences. Its much cheaper / safer / more reliable than threatening to shoot. If the weather station was really some super secret government thing, you would have hit a big fence long before the warning sign.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:24 AM on December 13, 2008

Best answer: Can you find it on Google Maps?
posted by unknowncommand at 9:37 AM on December 13, 2008

Hmmm ... the link above @ 10:17 references a place called "Horse Thief Springs" in relation to the location in question.

Do you think it's just some kind of a snarky joke, because wasn't it a thing in the "Wild West" that horse thieves would be shot?
posted by mccxxiii at 10:36 AM on December 13, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, "lethal force authorized" is what it actually said, and that's what convinced me to turn around. I'm nosy, so I drove just past the first warning sign, and it was the "lethal force" bit on the second sign that mede me think it might not be such a good idea to visit the weather station after all. "Lethal force" seems like a big deal to this civilian, but according to damn dirty ape it sounds like they are pretty standard. I don't remember if there was a fence around the actual weather station. I remember there being some kind of shed thing behind it and thinking "that must be where they welcome us!"

unknowncommand: Holy street view! I don't see anything that jumps out as the weather station (it could have been on Furnace Creek Road instead of Hot Springs Road). There is a white tower on hot springs road that could be it (on west side of Hot Springs Road near old Spanish Highway) that is visible from afar, but when I try to get a closer look it is obscured by camera glitches.
posted by abirae at 11:42 AM on December 13, 2008

camera glitches eh?

posted by phritosan at 8:21 AM on December 16, 2008

Response by poster: In case anyone is still interested (I know I am), the maps from the Center for Land Use Interpretation show that Tecopa is about 20 miles from the China Lake Naval Weapons Testing Center, and 15 miles from Fort Irwin. The map shows at least one perfectly circular patch with no plant growth near China Lake, presumably an impact crater, so some kind of seismic thingey would totally make sense.
posted by abirae at 6:37 PM on April 27, 2009

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