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UGA Not Just Talking About Weather

Georgia farmers have known all along that weather profoundly affects our lives. With the winter's icy surge in late January, the rest of us know now that accurate weather information isn't just for farmers.

"People are finding a growing range of needs for our data," said Gerrit Hoogenboom, a University of Georgia associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering.

"Besides agricultural sites, many utilities in the state are using it in their planning," he said. "Construction firms are finding it useful, and a number of lawyers use the data in litigation cases. Schools are beginning to use it more in education, too."

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UGA File Photo

Gerrit Hoogenboom tends to one of 40-plus automated weather stations in the UGA network.

Automated Environmental Monitoring

From the Griffin, Ga., campus of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Hoogenboom spent much of the 1990s assembling the Automated Environmental Monitoring Network.

From the outset, the network was focused on collecting reliable weather information for agricultural and environmental uses. It has become one of the best available in any U.S. state.

Every second, each automated station in the network monitors air temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, solar radiation, wind speed, wind direction and soil temperature at 2-, 4- and 8-inch depths.

Web Wealth of Weather Data

A Web site provides the collected data, maps, applications that make the numbers easier to use, and ample links to other weather information.

The network began with monitoring stations (about $5,500 each) on the UGA experiment stations in Watkinsville , Griffin and Tifton. Soon stations were added at each of the seven branch stations in Attapulgus, Eatonton, Savannah, Blairsville, Calhoun, Midville and Plains .

Weather Network Expanding

Now, Hoogenboom places the number of stations at "40-plus." A dozen are on private farms, nurseries or golf courses.

"We've continued to expand all along," he said. "I'm in the process of installing four more stations over the next month or two. We should have around 45 stations by midyear."

To help make the data easier to use, Hoogenboom added a number of applications to the Web site. These enable people to get, in seconds, data on weather history, degree days, chilling hours, water balance, heating and cooling days and crop models.

Adams Farm's Many Uses

James Lee Adams, who has one of the stations on his farm near Camilla, Ga., said he constantly checks the soil temperatures as he prepares to plan cotton, peanuts and corn.

  • "We use the data in a lot of ways," he said.
  • Air temperature and humidity data help in adjusting the climate in the farm's poultry houses.
  • Temperature reports help avoid aflatoxin in peanuts.
  • Heat units help determine cotton's maturity.
  • Rainfall and evapotranspiration rates help in scheduling irrigation.
  • Temperature and wind data help schedule pesticide spraying.

Data and the Bottom Line

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Photo: Sharon Omahen

Each of the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network's 40-plus stations, like this one, costs about $5,500.

Spraying chemicals at the most efficient time helps protect the environment. "But the bottom line," Adams said, "is that being more efficient saves us money."

Utility companies use the heating or cooling degree-day calculators to help them plan for their customers' heating and cooling needs. It helps with customer education, too.

"The heating- and cooling-day figures help customers understand the variations in their bills," said Jim Hunter, manager of marketing and member services for Colquitt Electric Membership Corporation in south Georgia..

When Hoogenboom began setting up the network in 1991, he planned to have each station download its data daily into the data base in Griffin.

Timely Weather Data

As he began developing the network Web site in 1998, though, it became clear the daily download wouldn't be enough. "We began to hear from people who wanted current weather conditions," he said.

Now, the eight stations in metro Atlanta, which have toll-free phone connections, update their data every 15 minutes. A number of grants cover the $10,000 long-distance bill to enable 14 other stations to download every hour. Each site "owner" in the network pays the monthly local phone charges, which spreads out another $13,000 in annual phone costs.

As the network expands, the range of its users -- and the value each assigns to it -- is growing, too.

"It's something we have to learn to use more," Adams said. "The more we use it, the more valuable it's going to be."

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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