To set the record straight, when it comes to weather, it can arrive in poetic form or it can represent reality.
Naturalist John Muir waxed eloquently when he observed: “A few minutes ago, every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship.”
Famed storyteller Aesop was also enamored: “The little reed, bending to the force of the wind, soon stood upright again when the storm had passed over.”
“As if,” say those who tend vineyards in Washington state. Rather than rely on by-guess-and-by-golly, they depend on advance scientific notification of major weather changes in order to keep grapes on the vine.
To do so, they put their faith in AgWeatherNet, a weather-related decision support tool aimed at improving agricultural production profitability while minimizing environmental impact.
“AWN provides Washington state farmers, growers, researchers and policymakers with weather data and related decision support tools to improve agricultural production yield and quality, along with efficiency and profitability, while minimizing environmental impacts,” says field meteorologist Craig Oswald at Washington State University, Prosser.
COVERING THE TERRITORY: Washington State University began installing all-in-one-style weather stations like this one last fall. They are meant to fill in the gaps between the more meteorologically geared sites, as well as provide high-quality local data for near or within vineyards and orchards.
The webpage shows a map of the entire state of Washington, with dozens of monitoring stations pinpointed.
“If you want to know the current temperature or to look at past data for that specific area, just click on that station,” he says. “We also have monthly regional summaries — and even seasonal summaries for each observation station.”
AgWeatherNet maintains automated and solar-powered weather stations that provide timely data that’s gathered repeatedly and summarized by a data logger every quarter-hour.
“We also do a twice-a-week weather outlook that provides a seven-day future forecast, and send out weather warnings of things like major weather changes on their way,” he says. “Lots of kinds of growers use these to plan out their week — like, ‘Will we be working crops all week or is there a major rain day ahead that will keep us out of the fields?’
“[It’s] Definitely beneficial to growing operations, like now, when things are getting green and insects are starting to show up,” he says. “We help with the timing of spray applications, and we offer disease and crop models specifically for grape growers. Our powdery mildew model takes an algorithm dependent on humidity and temperature, and warns growers in advance. Put all these models together and growers can utilize them for better planning their grow regimens.”
TALLER APPROACH: Towers in larger, open areas are geared toward high-quality measurements for meteorological use.
Weather variables include standard air temperature, relative humidity, soil temperature, rainfall, wind speed and direction, and solar radiation. Some stations also measure atmospheric pressure, soil moisture and leaf wetness.
AWN includes more than 175 automated stations located mostly in the irrigated regions of eastern Washington state. Since the first station was installed in 1988, the network has undergone significant expansion into western Washington, as well as dryland regions of the state.
Last fall saw the arrival of a meteorologist at the Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center to expand the impact of AWN on agriculture west of the Cascades — all part of a larger plan to meet diverse industry needs in a meteorologically complex state.
While a lot of data collection stations are concentrated in the middle of the state, where a majority of growing takes place, the network is hoping to transition a bit by removing some redundant station coverage and adding new stations in spots where coverage may be lacking. By early next spring, AWN is hoping to begin coverage of twice-daily regional forecasts in greater detail.
AgWeatherNet may be accessed and retrieved free of charge. While membership is not a requirement, registered users have access to the entire AWN dataset through web-based tools provided upon login. To visit AgWeatherNet online, go to weather.wsu.edu.
Allen writes from Arizona.