The College as a Weather Center
Last year, the College of Agriculture pulled together resources to help farmers deal with the fallout of the one-two weather punch that began with a freeze in April and was followed by the summer’s record-breaking drought.
“By midsummer, we put together an across-the-board response from the College,” said Jimmy Henning, associate dean for extension and associate director of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.
“We started to look at hay resources and find ways to make them last through the winter; we brought together information for our corn and soybean producers who would suffer yield losses; and we also tried to arm livestock producers with information about feeding animals through the winter after an extreme drought,” Henning said.
Extension’s regional program coordinators were “essential” in getting the message out to extension agents across the state, he said.
A drought quick response team put together a web site that pulled together all the drought information from many different disciplines.
Tom Priddy, UK Agriculture Weather Center meteorologist, participated in at least 75 media interviews about drought-related weather. Since Priddy was on the state drought committee, he provided weekly weather briefs to state agencies. The weather center’s own drought web site gave the public an opportunity to “ask the experts” drought-related questions.
The College also worked with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to publicize a hotline through which farmers could find resources for hay or sell their hay surplus to others.
by Aimee Nielson
“Our mission is to minimize weather-related surprise for our residents’ agricultural needs,” said Tom Priddy, UK agricultural meteorologist. “This covers the spectrum of weather and climate in Kentucky, ranging from daily operations like spraying and drying conditions to longer-term concerns like El Niño and La Niña weather patterns and global climate change.”
WEATHER CENTER STAFF, from the left: Tom Priddy, agricultural meteorologist; Wanhong Wang, senior computer administrator and programer; and Keys Arnold, staff meteorologist.
The Ag Weather Center, physically, is a roomful of equipment in the Barnhart Building on the UK campus. But to those who access its web site (found as a link from the College’s home page) it offers a variety of resources.
Those resources include current and forecasted weather conditions for every Kentucky county.
Residents can also find information concerning drought, fire weather conditions, long-range outlooks, and radar and satellite imagery.
The center also collaborates with other College departments to provide weather-related information about pests and disease, climatology, livestock heat, cold stress, and drought. It even offers weather information for other states and links to tropical and international forecasts.
Disasters often involve bad weather, so when the College joined the National Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) eight years ago, the weather center became involved in its efforts to strengthen Kentucky’s preparedness for the unexpected.
One goal has been to certify county extension offices as “storm ready.”
To become storm ready, county office staff must receive severe weather training from the National Weather Service. The extension office must have weather radios, a disaster kit, an emergency action plan, and signage marking a weather-safe location. And, a “weather watcher” must be designated, someone to alert other staff about severe weather that occurs during office hours.
To date, the National Weather Service has trained more than 80 extension agents and staff. All Kentucky Cooperative Extension offices currently have weather radios, and nearly 30 offices and the Research and Education Center in Princeton have completed StormReady certification. Extension is also supporting a number of Kentucky counties and communities in becoming storm ready.
But responding to disaster isn’t something new for Cooperative Extension.
“County family and consumer sciences agents have helped clientele recover from flood events by giving them research-based resources about mold and mildew removal, food contamination, clean water, and sanitation issues,” Priddy said. “County agriculture and natural resource agents are the first responders for plant and crop diseases.”
Farmers are not the only Kentuckians who keep an eye on the sky. Homeowners and gardeners also have a real need for accurate and precise weather information. A new and unique service of the weather center to provide that information is the Point Agricultural, Lawn and Garden Forecast/Outlook (click on Agricultural Point Forecast for U.S. on the weather center’s home page).
Users can enter a zip code, city, and state or even latitude/longitude locations anywhere in the United States and receive a specific forecast for that location from the National Weather Center’s National Digital Forecast Database.
The database provides three- and six-day forecasts that include minimum and maximum temperatures, dewpoints, rainfall, and wind and cloud information.
The outlook can provide specific forecast information as well as detailed agriculture forecasts, said Keys Arnold, staff meteorologist with the weather center.
“The best thing is the product is not restricted to use by only Kentuckians; any farmer in the lower 48 states can get all of the information,” Arnold said.
In November, 2007, Kentucky joined more than 20 other states in using the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow network (CoCoRaHS).
It is a nonprofit, community-based group of volunteers who measure and map precipitation. Collaborators are the UK College of Agriculture, the Kentucky Climate Center at Western Kentucky University, Kentucky’s National Weather Service offices, and the Kentucky Farm Service Agency.
“The great thing about CoCoRaHS is anyone can volunteer and participate, young or old,” Priddy said. He and Stu Foster, state climatologist at Western Kentucky University, coordinate the network.
With each rain, hail, or snow event, volunteers take measurements of precipitation at their location and then record them online. The precipitation data will be generated, organized, and then displayed in reports for application to situations ranging from water resource analysis and severe storm warnings to neighbors comparing how much rain fell in their backyards.
The Ag Weather Center’s web site has a link to CoCoRaHS. Priddy said every Kentucky county will have a precipitation map with daily updates.
“We know that precipitation greatly varies from county to county and even within communities,” he said. “Having a network of volunteers will help us see the true precipitation picture across Kentucky, and that can be very important, especially in drought years where every little bit of moisture matters.”
One of the first CoCoRaHS volunteer observers in Kentucky was Ron Malinowski Jr. of Scott County, who also volunteers as a weather specialist and response officer with the Georgetown/Scott County Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security.
“I enjoy getting up every morning and looking at the gauge in the backyard and knowing my report will serve as a part of history for many to look back on years from now,” Malinowski said.
The Ag Weather Center also is assisting in developing, in Kentucky, the Mesonet—a network of automated environmental monitoring stations. Funding for the Kentucky Mesonet was secured by Sen. Mitch McConnell through an earmark to the Kentucky Climate Center at Western Kentucky University.
The UK College of Agriculture is on the cutting edge of agricultural weather.
New technology combined with advances in meteorology will benefit all Kentuckians, rain or shine.