Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Mesonet Uses Sprouting

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Mesonet Uses Sprouting

Article excerpt

NORMAN -- When the idea that became the Oklahoma Mesonet was first kicked around in the mid-1980s, Kenneth Crawford had a fairly simple vision of the weather-information network's practical uses.

He figured the data could be used to make better use and take better care of environmental and other resources. For instance, farmers would know when to spray their crops for maximum effect, cutting down on the number of applications needed.

"If we could stop doing some of those things unless they were needed, we could increase profits and protect the environment," said Crawford, who heads the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, which runs the Mesonet from offices at the University of Oklahoma. Today marks five years that the Mesonet has been a reality unmatched anywhere in the world. Crawford said he never dreamed of some of the uses that have been found for the information, which has been credited with helping save lives, time and money. "There are numerous success stories you can't put a dollar value on," he said. The Mesonet consists of 115 stations located around the state an average of 19 miles apart. Each station features a 30-foot tower bristling with weather instruments that report data to the survey's office in Norman every 15 minutes. Above ground, the stations measure wind direction, wind speed at three heights, temperature, humidity, rainfall and solar radiation. Below ground, they measure soil temperature and moisture at different depths. Computers double-check the accuracy of all measurements and make them available to Mesonet users in a variety of forms, from bar graphs to tracking maps. Crawford said the system costs about $1 million each year to run, including salaries for 15 full-time and 17 part-time employees. The state Legislature provides half the funding and the rest comes from research grants and other sources. To date, the program has attracted about $20 million worth of grants. Users include emergency management workers, farmers, the National Weather Service, researchers and teachers and their students. New uses are cropping up all the time. Among one of the more recent uses found is a computer model that factors in temperature, humidity and other measurements to determine when conditions are best for dispersal of odors, useful for large- scale livestock operations that occasionally conduct smelly operations like draining sewage lagoons. Farmers can use the network to decide when to plant crops, when they should spray for certain insects and at harvest time, when they can plan activities around the weather. Agricultural information is available free. Derek Arndt, an OCS employee who has worked on several agriculture-related Mesonet projects, said the technology means farmers no longer have to seek some advice from county agents whose data may be days or weeks old. …

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