Weather forecasting tools offering options to consider
Weather is one of those facets of life that cannot be controlled. Yet for farmers, it’s one of the most critical things in their ag operations.
Knowing the historical aspects of weather in the Delmarva is one of the ways farmers can plan for future plantings and harvests.
Using forecasting information provided by governmental entities as well as private sector businesses is another method to deal with an uncontrollable aspect of agriculture.
In Delaware, the Meteorological Station at the University of Delaware Research Farm records monthly precipitation amounts on an on-going basis. These amounts are then compared to historical averages, as can be seen in the chart at the top of this news column, to provide some context for current rainfall. Records go back to 1949.
A variety of other weather-related information is available through the Delaware Geological Survey.
Within the federal government, agencies that provide weather and climate data of interest to farmers include the USDA, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including the National Weather Service and Climate.gov. In addition, data is also available through organizations that partner with the federal government, including the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The weather forecasting information provided by the federal government can be overwhelming in scope. The presentation of that information is not necessarily designed to look pretty to the eye and may include language that is difficult to decipher.
Private businesses that provide weather forecasting information through many of the subscription services usually make certain that their information is displayed in ways pleasing to the eye. These businesses may offer what appears to be or what may actually be personalized or localized information based on special technology since you can download the data directly through an app on your mobile phone. In most cases, you’ll only get the information that directly is of interest to you.
And that may be all you want to receive.
“The USDA issues daily weather forecasts at 9 a.m. (Eastern Time) each day, with one exception each month,” said Brad Rippey, Metrologist with the USDA. “On that one specific day each month, the daily weather forecast is delayed until Noon (Eastern Time).”
Rippey said that “the Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin is issued at 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) each Tuesday, with the exceptions occurring if that week’s Monday is a Federal holiday. In those specific cases, the Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin is issued at 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) on the Wednesday of those weeks.”
He added many of the government reports that were subscription-based are now freely available through the internet.
“Until the late 1990s, most of our reports were only available in print forms,” Rippey said. “And those print forms were only provided to people who paid subscription fees. With the advent of the internet, we were able to make these reports freely available to everyone.”
A few of the services available without cost through Federal governmental entities include the following:
For a general forecast, you can go to https://www.weather.gov/. In the upper left corner is a box to add a specific location. You can include a specific city and state. As an alternative, you can list a specific county or zip code, but the NWS suggests a more specific locale if possible.
The information provided through this website comes from Esri, a private company that links weather forecasting to specific communities using geographic information systems.
For information about soil moisture conditions, you can go to https://www.drought.gov/topics/soil-moisture. In the middle of the site, you can scale down the map of the continental United States to get a view of current soil moisture conditions in the Delmarva.
For information about drought conditions, you can go to https://www.drought.gov/. Local data can be viewed by entering a specific city or zip code in the box in the middle of the top of the site. Maps will display short-term and long-term drought indicators as well as evaporative demand forecasts for two week and four week time periods.
A second source of information about drought conditions is available through the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You can view information from this Center at https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/.
For information about soil moisture conditions, you can go to https://www.drought.gov/topics/soil-moisture. In the middle of the site, you can scale down the map of the continental United States to get a view of current soil moisture conditions in New Jersey.
The Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin is jointly prepared by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NOAA and the USDA and is available at https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/wwcb.pdf. The bulletin provides details on recent weather conditions and their impact on crops.
For climate forecasts, you can review information at the Climate Prediction Center at https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/. By moving your computer cursor over the list of items displayed on this site, you’ll be able to view outlooks for temperatures and precipitation for a variety of time periods, including 6-10 days, 8-14 days, 3-4 weeks, one month, and three months.
In addition to these governmental sources, there are a number of private sector firms active in weather forecasting for farmers and others in the ag industry. Weather Trends and Agricultural Weather Information Service (AWIS) are two examples.
“Traditional long-term agriculture weather forecasts use ever-changing physics and analog methodologies, a challenging way to plan,” according to a statement from Weather Trends. “Our statistical, 24 climate cycle, based forecasting model is 85% accurate a year out — better than most companies’ week two forecast. With good advance data on temperature, precipitation, and growing degree days, you can plan your crops, planting dates, fertilizer, chemical demand and harvest times with total confidence.”
A sample report issued by Weather Trends for a farm in Dover, Del., included specific forecasts for the day it was issued — air and soil temperatures, soil moisture, inches of rain, wind speeds, humidity levels, and UV levels. Forecasts for the next two weeks were also included as were year-ahead outlooks through March of 2023.
Pricing varies for the different services offered by Weather Trends. One of its plans aimed at those active in agriculture is priced at $399 for an annual subscription. A 30-day free trial is available for limited access.
AWIS is a private businesses that provides weather forecasting for farmers. The information provided through the USDA, the NOAA, and other Federal governmental entities is combined with additional information secured by AWIS.
“We’re one of the few businesses that are able to provide detailed forecasts for individual farmers,” said Karl Harker, vice president of operations at AWIS. “We utilize Federal data, but we also verify the information for quality control. While technology and advanced equipment can do much of the work, the measurements must be observed and verified by people with the necessary skills.”
“We are able to provide risk assessments for farmers to determine the best times for planting and for harvesting,” Harker said. “We include the confidence levels and the limitations of the risk assessments. We can provide predictions that take into account a variety of conditions from field to field.”
Harker said while there is substantial information provided by Federal governmental entities, “many farmers need a consultant or an interpreter to use the information in ways that are practical and reliable.”
He said AWIS fits a niche.
“Many of our agricultural clients are ones that have high-value crops,” said Harker. “Specialized crops may have a higher risk — and a higher cost — in the case of loss. Growers with crops especially sensitive to weather conditions — ornamentals, citrus, vegetables, and other crops — find that having our risk assessments with our interpretations to be valuable.
For example, an upcoming freeze may wipe out an entire crop.
Timing through weather forecasting is critical to know when to protect the crop and what methods might work best.”
Pricing for services through AWIS varies depending on the specific types of information provided through the company.
The cost for the firm’s Freeze/Frost Web Subscription Services is $200 for sixth months and $400 for an annual subscription; the first seven days can be done for free on a trial subscription.
Other services are priced at different rates, with some that can go up to a few hundred dollars monthly.
Long-term weather forecasts are more generalized, Harker said.
“Science is not yet capable of completely accurate long-term weather forecasts. Shorter-term weather forecasting is more accurate. There’s a significant increase in confidence levels with weather forecasts of 10 days or less, particularly with forecasts on temperature levels. Precipitation levels are more difficult to predict on a localized level because the locations of specific amounts of rain can vary.”
Among the purposes of using weather forecasts, Harker said, is to increase the efficiency of farmers and provide ways for farmers to lower their costs.
“One thing that doesn’t change for farmers is that expenses are almost always likely to increase,” Harker said. “Expenses for supplies, for fertilizers, for chemicals, for just about everything. We try to educate farmers on ways to lessen some of their costs.”
Harker said one example is monitoring nitrogen loss in the soil.
“We’re able to monitor a variety of aspects of the soil in a field,” he said. “Nitrogen is one of those items.”
“AWIS has partnered with WeatherPulse to provide a unique and proprietary field management system that provides critical weather information to farmers all over the country, throughout the growing season,” according to a statement from the company. “We ingest data about your fields and provide real-time weather data for real-time crop development status and critical growth points, as well as real-time nitrogen loss recognition.”