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Weather station networks benefit farmers, others

Slideshow: Indiana’s innovative public weather station network aids those in agriculture, nonprofits and education.

May 13, 2024

8 Slides

At a Glance

  • Weather station networks give accurate insight and visibility over large areas.
  • Networks of weather stations can be configured to satisfy information needs.
  • Various guidelines exist for installing weather stations.

Farmers are on the lookout for localized weather data. Weather stations, from simple thermometers and rain gauges to complex internet-connected instruments, have long served as tools for gathering data on the current environment.

Costs can vary considerably depending on quality and sensors. Expect to spend about $1,000 to $3,000 per semiprofessional-grade weather station. For scientific-grade weather stations like those managed by the Indiana State Climate Office, cost can run $25,000 in equipment alone.

A collaborative purchase of similar weather stations with neighbors, all using the same online platform, can result in sharing weather data on a smaller weather station network.

Large-scale networking

Farmers in north-central Indiana can benefit from a network of over 135 weather stations that provide weather, soil moisture and soil temperature conditions every 15 minutes.

“It’s been very good to have rainfall totals — that’s probably the biggest factor,” says Jess Daily, operations manager at the Kewanna-based Mainstay Farming Partnership.

Daily was the first Wabash Heartland Innovation Network Ag Alliance member to have a weather station installed. He later added a second WHIN weather station about 5 miles away to provide more insight into his nearby fields.

This weather station network, one of the densest in the world, is maintained and operated by WHIN, a nonprofit aimed at increasing internet-enabled sensor adoption in agriculture and manufacturing. It covers 10 pilot counties: Pulaski, White, Cass, Benton, Carroll, Tippecanoe, Warren, Fountain, Montgomery and Clinton.

“There are a couple weather stations that we watch in the region, within a 20-mile radius,” Daily adds. “Just so we can see rainfall totals, and where rainfall patterns are at.”

Real-time weather station conditions can easily be shared with everyone involved in field work. Examples include monitoring local wind speed and direction when spraying and keeping track of soil moisture and temperature throughout the season.

Variety of data

WHIN’s internet-connected weather stations measure:

  • wind speed, direction and gusts

  • rainfall

  • solar radiation

  • temperature

  • humidity

  • heat index

  • wind chill

  • dew point

  • barometric conditions

  • soil temperature

  • moisture levels at 2, 5, 10 and 15 inches under the surface

Since Wi-Fi coverage isn’t available in most outdoor settings, WHIN weather stations upload data via 4G cellular connections. However, LoRaWAN technology is starting to connect stations to the internet. LoRaWAN communication technology operates for cheaper than cellular. It is well-suited for low-speed, low-power data transmission, according to Jack Stucky, WHIN chief technology officer.

Accessible through WHIN’s website, weather station data helps not only growers, but also teachers, students and community members better understand weather impacts.

For those outside WHIN’s area, other weather station networks exist, such as the Indiana Automated Surface Observations System Network. Plus, check out the Purdue Mesonet.

Larry Rose, current adviser and past executive director with nonprofit Tree Lafayette, says weather station networks aid in monitoring soil moisture at different depths and adjusting volunteer watering schedules for newly planted trees in the community.

“Where there’s trees, there’s rain,” Rose says, explaining that transpiration from trees helps create the rain cycle. Tree Lafayette recently planted over 4,500 trees in the Lafayette, Ind., area. Rose has used six WHIN weather stations, along with other weather data from stations located throughout Tippecanoe County, to help ensure newly planted trees get enough water.

Assessing value of data

Severe weather expert Robin Tanamachi is an associate professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue. She uses WHIN stations in two courses: Atmospheric Observations and Measurement, and Radar Meteorology.

Her students regularly assess the quality of WHIN weather station data, comparing it to more costly and more frequently calibrated scientific weather stations, such as those located at Purdue University Airport and on the Purdue Mesonet.

“For a 15-minute interval, rainfall was off by about a tenth of a millimeter — which doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of a year, that can add up to quite a bit,” Tanamachi says. “Some days were worse; some days were better.”

Tanamachi has combined WHIN weather station data alongside data generated from her 50-kilometer radar located at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus to help better understand rainfall patterns. “Having a very dense network of rain gauges and being able to then validate radar-based estimates is valuable,” she says.

Weather station installation options

Interested in installing your own weather station? The National Weather Service provides guidance and ideal scenarios for site selection. Location can greatly impact quality of weather data.

If soil moisture or soil temperature measurements are included, a location that accurately represents characteristics such as drainage, elevation and soil composition is critical. A weather station located on a flat, level area, away from paved surfaces, provides the most accurate readings.

Also, locate stations where collision with farm machinery is unlikely. Stay away from large structures and tree lines to provide accurate wind and solar radiation readings.

Weather station connectivity pricing often varies according to how often data travels over a cellular network. About $100 to $300 per year should be budgeted. Other cost considerations include quality and type of weather hardware, along with regular inspection and maintenance expenses.

Most weather stations can be installed in a matter of hours. Data generated over its lifetime will aid in both real-time and long-term decision-making.

Wright completed the Purdue ag communication cornerstone class, is a lecturer at the Lamb School of Communication at Purdue, and works as a project manager at the Wabash Heartland Innovation Network.

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