May 31, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

The success or failure of many enterprises, especially agriculture, depends on the weather. So, it only makes sense to have the best weather technology available to Kentucky's agricultural producers.

Kenneth Crawford, director of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey recently came to the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture to explain the capabilities and usefulness of the Oklahoma Mesonet. He also met with the newly formed Kentucky Mesonet Task Force.

Tom Priddy, agricultural meteorologist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, said currently there are two kinds of weather observations taken in the Commonwealth.

One is a climate co-op network and that data is taken daily and sent through the National Weather Service to the National Climate Data Center and is published within four months. The other data is taken by the NWS for current analysis of weather and only taken in cities.

"Most of the agriculture and the research for agriculture is somewhere other than where the observations were taken," Priddy said. "So we really don't have the network to do the agricultural research right now to the extent that they have in Oklahoma with the Mesonet."

The Oklahoma Mesonet is a multi-purpose environmental network and is the only system of it's kind in the United States. There are 115 Mesonet stations throughout Oklahoma, including one in each county. These stations handle about 5,000 observations every 15 minutes. The data is available, in real time, via the World Wide Web and through a dial-up network.

"The sites are about 15 miles apart. About half of our sites are on privately-owned pieces of land," Crawford said. "Fifty-nine sites are on private land, rent-free. We also operate a micronet in a small area of the state where the stations are only two miles apart."

Each Mesonet station records many types of data. Some measurements include air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, wind variability, barometric pressure, solar radiation and rainfall every five minutes. Each station also measures and records soil temperature and moisture at up to five depths every 15 and 30 minutes, respectively.

Users of the Mesonet range from farmers to school teachers to utility companies.

Sid Sperry, director of marketing and member relations for the Okla. Association of Electric Cooperatives said that Mesonet information is valuable to the electric co-ops since up-to-the minute weather data are absolutely critical to an industry that delivers electricity via power lines to 77 counties.

"The Mesonet has proven to be one of the most valuable production and marketing tools available to Oklahoma producers," Mark Hodges, former executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, said. "For example, in 1997, a late freeze had potentially affected over six million acres of Oklahoma wheat. Producers were faced with the economic decision of leaving the crop for grain production or salvaging it for hay. Mesonet data helped producers and agronomists make the most informed decision possible.

Hodges thinks the Mesonet will play an increasing role in pesticide and fertilizer applications, prescribed burning, confined animal operations, and irrigation scheduling, to name a few.

The Mesonet is also helping K-12 students by providing scientific mentorship, custom data display software, award-winning web pages, unique learning activities, an annual Mesonet Science Fair and an online support system.

"The technology is there and we have an excellent model to work with in the Oklahoma Mesonet," Priddy said. "I think there is enough interest in Kentucky by various organizations to say now is the time to do this so Kentucky can move into the twenty-first century. Now is the time do agricultural weather research for wheat head and blue mold, out in the rural areas where it's really happening." The Kentucky Mesonet Task Force includes representatives from Disaster Emergency Services, the Kentucky Department of Transportation, five weather offices around the region, legislators to observe the process, state police, the Red Cross, K-12 educators and university professors, and the Civilian Aviation Association. "We have a large cross section of stakeholders coming together to put together the plan for what will work best in our state," Priddy added. "I think we can put up the Cadillac of systems in Kentucky. 


Tom Priddy 859-257-3000