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Serving: IN
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EXPAND WEATHER NETWORK: Farmers could have more complete access to important data for agriculture if an existing network of automated weather stations were expanded.

Farmers would benefit from more weather stations

Indiana's state climatologist believes expanding the current network would benefit ag and environmental interests.

Who says Purdue University and Indiana University are always rivals? Beth Hall believes there’s an opportunity to leave competitive spirit on the hardwood and work together toward a common goal.

“We would love to expand a joint system of automatic weather stations so we could cover Indiana more completely,” says Hall, Indiana’s state climatologist, based at Purdue.

Purdue has nine automated weather stations, and IU is responsible for 13 weather stations. They were set up for different reasons, but specialists with the two universities are working together to share information and make it available to people who need it, Hall says.

A system of weather stations that covers a designated area is called a mesonet. Hall refers to the weather stations managed by the two state networks as “publicly managed mesonet stations.”

Existing stations

Purdue’s nine stations, with recording weather instruments, are located at its ag centers in Lake, Porter, Whitley, Tippecanoe, Randolph, Knox, Lawrence, Jennings and Dubois counties. Relaunched in 1999, the Purdue Automated Agricultural Weather Stations are known as the PAAWS network. Information is available on 30-minute, hourly and daily intervals, Hall says.

These stations routinely record air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction and gusts, precipitation, solar radiation, soil temperature at 4 inches under sod and under bare soil, vapor pressure, and saturation vapor pressure. This is information farmers need to make decisions about when to plant, spray, cut hay and do other important daily operations. Find archived data at ag.purdue.edu.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Water Balance Network is operated by the Indiana Geological and Water Survey at Indiana University. It was created to monitor water gain or loss for different components of regional water budgets. At 13 sites across the state, automated equipment monitors precipitation, air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, solar radiation, soil temperature and soil moisture content. Groundwater levels are measured at all sites.

There are stations in Hendricks, Marion, Lake, Allen, Morgan, Rush, Fayette Delaware, Henry and Monroe counties. Three additional sites will be installed in south-central Indiana in spring 2020. Find data at igws.indiana.edu.

Remaining need

The advantage of a mesonet network is that data collected and reported can be tailored to the needs of specific groups, Hall says. For example, farmers are likely to be more interested in soil temperature, wind speed and direction, and solar radiation than someone deciding if they should take an umbrella to work.

While stations are collecting information about soil temperature and solar radiation, they’re also collecting data on precipitation received and moisture movement into the atmosphere, which can aid those tracking Indiana’s water balance.

“It’s a great resource, but what we need going forward are more stations to fill in the gaps in our geography,” Hall says. Looking at the map of existing stations, there’s a void in southeast, north-central and west-central Indiana. These are key agricultural regions of the state. 

Hall is promoting that more stations be added. Each station costs about $25,000 in initial outlay, plus about $2,000 per year in annual maintenance, which includes continuing sensor calibrations.

Hopefully, this is an effort Indiana’s general farm and commodity groups can support. Perhaps when the 2021 Indiana legislative session convenes, a budget session, legislators might see fit to help add funds to bolster this worthwhile network that benefits everyone in Indiana.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

TAGS: Weather Crops
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