A number of electronic tools have been developed in the last 20 years to help farmers and others closely monitor the weather.
Tracking the weather is critical to successful farm practices, but site-specific information is important to other businesses as well.
Tools such as Missouri Mesonet, Horizon Point and the Crop Water Use app are now serving thousands of farmers, but they have also been adapted to the needs of utility companies, hospitals, pilots, road crews, weather broadcasters, insurance agencies, sports managers and many others.
There’s ample evidence that Missouri Mesonet, a network of 37 weather stations throughout the state, is vital to people in agriculture.
In the second quarter of 2019 alone, the website received 5.5 million hits.
This sophisticated network of weather stations supports commercial agriculture by collecting environmental data on a five-minute, hourly and daily basis.
The stations monitor primary weather variables, including temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, soil temperature and rainfall. Data is posted on the website, showing the weather variables in near real time five-minute intervals at each station, as well as providing hourly, daily, weekly and year-to-date weather station summaries.
Missouri Mesonet is a collaboration among MU Extension, the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Missouri Climate Center.
Beginning in 1993, the network evolved from a few stations to stations in 27 counties plus St. Louis.
Pat Guinan, MU Extension and state climatologist, comanages the weather stations daily with the system administrator, John Travlos, setting up and making sure all 37 stations are running properly.
“Every morning, every day, I do quality control of the data,” Guinan said.
In addition to real-time weather, the stations offer opportunities for educational programs, teaching, research, innovation, public safety, discovery and service to communities, Guinan said.
“Ideally we would love to have weather stations in all 114 counties of Missouri,” he said, “We will be setting up four more this next year to get to 41 total stations.”
Each weather station sits on a tripod in a field, with a variety of tools and instruments that record and analyze data.
Instruments and cables attached to all the tripods include a thermometer to measure air temperature, a hygrometer for humidity, an anemometer for wind speed, a wind vane for wind direction, a pyranometer for solar radiation, two soil temperature cables buried at two different depths and a rain gauge to chart liquid precipitation.
The heart of the weather station lies within the data logger, a self-sustaining system that operates off a solar panel and rechargeable battery.
All of the sensors and their cables are wired to the data logger, Guinan explained.
The data logger takes measurements of weather data every three seconds that are then combined into summaries reported every five minutes, 60 minutes and 24 hours.
That collected data is sent through a wireless radio modem that transfers the information to a receiver for uploading to the internet every five minutes.
“Weather stations help farmers save money and time with the efficiency of real-time weather,” Guinan said.
“Also, after doing this for 25 years, I have an eye for catching red flags when it comes to quality control.”
Beginning in 2006, a web-based program called the Horizon Point began delivering site-specific weather advisories to farmers via email, Guinan said. The advisories include precipitation, temperature and wind forecast information.
By the end of 2018, more than 1,000 locations had registered to receive reports specific to their latitude, longitude and farm characteristics from Horizon Point, he said.
Missouri crop producers use both the Missouri Mesonet and the Horizon Point system to improve fertilizer efficiency, reduce applied pesticides, make springtime planting decisions, reduce spray drift, plant crops at strategic times, spray crops at strategic times and much more.
Other Horizon Point participants include certified crop advisors, landscapers, construction workers, banks, golf courses, insurance and state and federal agencies such as the National Weather Service and Missouri Department of Conservation, Guinan said.
Crop Water Use app
A Crop Water Use app was introduced in March 2015 by Gene Stevens, an MU Extension plant sciences professor. The app uses weather station data to help farmers manage irrigation, according to the Crop Water Use Application website.
By the end of 2018, at least 789 active users had signed up for the app and are able to receive information through smartphones and computers.
The Missouri Mesonet is a partner with the National Mesonet Program. Along with assisting those in Missouri, the weather station network has provided metadata and nearly real-time data along with various other state mesonets to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration since 2010.
The National Weather Service uses this information for surface analyses, forecasting and public safety issues related to hazardous or severe weather, Guinan said.