Weather Data Library in Mesonet at K-State

(Jim Shroyer) Good morning, folks. Welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host, and we’re in luck because we’re at the Weather Data Library in Mesonet, in the Department of Agronomy in Throckmorton Hall. We’re going to be meeting with the individuals involved with collecting the data and how all this information benefits you. We’ve got to take a break. We’ll see you after these words from our sponsors. Thank you.

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(Jim) Good morning, folks. Welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host, and with us, we have Mary Knapp, our Assistant State Climatologist, and we’re going to be talking about the Weather Data Library that’s housed in the Department of Agronomy here in K-State in the Mesonet, and various things in the other segments. Mary, take us of on what the Weather Data Library does, and what we’re all about. (Mary Knapp) Basically, to give you a very short history, back in the ‘70s the National Weather Service decided that climate was not an important part of their mission, and they eliminated the State Climate Office. At the time, Dr. Dean Bark who was the professor of physics here at Kansas State University said, “Wait a minute, this is vitally important to agriculture and to the citizens of Kansas.” He worked with the University to maintain that program. It’s now migrated through various iterations and we’re housed in the Department of Agronomy. We have an expanded office now, so we have a full time tenure track faculty, Dr. Xiaomao Lin, who is the State Climatologist. He’s focus is on research, he has two graduate students working with him, and their research is geared toward climate and climate impacts on various phases of Kansas life. That’s– (Jim) Not just agriculture, we’re talking about everybody. (Mary) Not just agriculture, but everybody; water use, urban environments, because weather does impact everybody. My role is more in the outreach areas. I will be talking to producers. I do presentations to STEM classes, a wide variety of things. I also help prepare standard products that go out. We do a weekly update to the drought monitor, we also do weekly drought updates, and yes, there is still drought in Kansas and a number of other things, then again, we service as a source of information for producers or for citizens who might need to know more about the weather. We do a lot with the Mesonet data, and you’ll be talking to Chip Redmond, and the various other members of the Mesonet team later in the segment. We also work with the National Weather Service, and we archive data from the Coop Observing Network. We are a Coop Observing site here in Manhattan, and that is our official Manhattan reporting station. Our data goes back to 1856, which actually predates the College, so we do have a very long history of accumulating weather information and making it available and probably our third outreach area is with CoCoRaHS. CoCoRaHS stands for Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. Rainfall is one of the most variable measurements that can be collected, if you think of it as weather and it’s very expensive to use an automated observation technique for it. There’s a lot of problems with keeping the gauges clean, bugs, and everything like that and the instrumentation itself is expensive. With the CoCoRaHS network, we use a standard eight-inch plastic gauge that’s used with the National Weather Service Storm Spotter Network so it’s comparable from site to site. Volunteers get a gauge, deploy it and report daily with the rainfall- (Jim) It’s basically citizen scientists, so to speak or least reporters. (Mary) Citizen scientists– Now the CoCoRaHS program is across the country and has actually gone international. We have Canadian groups and the Bahamas have recently joined. (Jim) Mary thanks for giving us that overview. I appreciate that. (Mary) Thanks. (Jim) Folks, we have to take a break right now so we’ll see you in a minute after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer and with us in this segment, we have Chip Redmond, who is the manager of the Mesonet. Chip tell us a little bit about the Mesonet. We got a chart back here. Tell us what it is and what it does and take off. (Chip Redmond) Okay. Yes. We have 56 stations spread out throughout the state, about half of them are towers which are 30-foot towers, and the other half are tripods and they’re about three meters tall. The network originated in 1985. It started at Research and Extension sites. From there, it’s slowly grown over time especially in the 2010s. (Jim) Because I remember it when there was 33 for a long time or in that 30 ballpark for a long time, so we’re up to 56 now. (Chip) Yes. We’re at 56 now. We’re actively growing. We try to gain one or two stations a year just as long as we can gain additional funding to maintain them and we’re trying to fill in a lot of the gaps. We aim to put up stations in where there are no National Weather Service Stations, where there are no other KDOT stations or anything like that. We try to hit the areas that are not well represented across the state. Our main use of our networks since we originated the Research and Extension stations are at farms, the main use is agriculture. That’s the fundamental use and that’s what we try to drive for. (Jim) How many– you have 56 but you add a couple every year, what’s the goal? Is to have one at least in every county? (Chip) Yes. Long-term goal will be 105 stations, one in every county. With that, it takes a lot of money and a lot of funding- (Jim) Well, maintenance is going to take — (Chip) – and a lot of manpower, a ton of manpower. We visit every station at least two times a year. We do spring maintenance, fall maintenance and we do emergency maintenance as well. We can get a notification within an hour of either a variable out of- a temperature too high, too warm, or the stations that aren’t reporting. (Jim) So you already know that something’s wrong. It flags it, it’s flagged and you can see a 150° you know that in Saline County that it’s hot, but it’s not quite that hot. (Chip) No, so we can do emergency maintenance to be out there as soon as possible to replace that. (Jim) Okay. Let’s take it to the next step. You collect all this data, 24 hours a day on 56 stations, now what? (Chip) We collect all that data. Includes temperatures, includes winds at six foot and 30 foot and that includes soil temperature, precipitations, solar radiation. (Jim) What about soil temperature, let’s go with soil temperature, what depths? (Chip) We record depths at two inch and four inch and then we have soil moisture sensors which are at the towers also record at different depths. (Jim) What’s the usual? Six, 12, 18 inches or–? (Chip) 20, 40 and 60 centimeters is what we’re doing right now. We’re going to be changing that in the next year. We anticipate we’re overhauling our soil moisture sensors. With that, all that data comes in. Basically we call Sanity Checks just to check if it’s within the realm of average or the expected temperatures. Then we have a flag notification that pops up, that we’re able to access whether there’s an error or warning or a suspect depending on how flagrant it is. (Jim) How often is this data collected or sent back to headquarters? (Chip) We collect data every three minutes. We use cellular communications so that we get it instantaneous and then immediately that data is pulled into our database and can be displayed through multiple avenues. (Jim) Chip, we got to take a break now, I appreciate it. I know there’s lots more you could talk on it, but we’ve got to take a break. Folks, stay with us. We’ll be right back after this words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm, I’m Jim Shroyer and in this segment we have Randy Mai, native of Greeley County, Kansas. Randy is the field technologist or field tech for the Weather Data Library and we’re in a kind near little cubbyhole here Randy. With all that equipment that we have, those 56 sites, I imagine things go awry from time to time and have to be checked and quality assurance, that sort of thing. Tell us a little bit about what you do. (Randy Mai) Currently, we’re staying in the re-certification laboratory and in this laboratory what we try and do is provide quality assurance for the data that we do produce with our sensors that we put in the field. We test the sensors when they’re new and we try and repeat that test at one-year intervals. We do it earlier if need be. (Jim) If things go wrong? (Randy) That is correct, if we suspect the data. Now what this really does for us is it just gives us a Sanity Check to where we can bring sensors back in and also send them off for re-calibration if we think we need to. That allows us to basically maintain a level of quality assurance of our data that we are producing. (Jim) Yes. If you have bad data, or bad sensors out there, you get bad data in, bad data out so to speak. (Randy) That’s true. (Jim) Tell us a little bit about what you have right there then. You have a good– (Randy) The first apparatus that we are looking at right here or is positioned here is for measuring solar radiation. We use what is called a pyranometer, which most people have them in their new vehicles. That sensor is used to turn on their lights as the sun goes down. It senses solar radiation. (Jim) So this is basically the same thing? (Randy) Right. We take a brand new sensor, one that we deemed good by certain acceptance criteria, then measure all other sensors against that. It has to fall within a percent value of what we consider good. (Jim) A standard, right? (Randy) Yes, sir. (Jim) Good deal. What is this next machine we have here behind us? (Randy) Right behind you, that is for testing temperature and relative humidity sensor, which they are actually a sensor that’s blended together. We are able to close the hood on this and run it across a gradient of temperatures, check it at different points at that temperature gradient. Also, that little test chamber that’s directly behind you, we check at different humidities and we use salts inside there because particular salts are proven. There’s been good research done on it that tells how much water it will give up and retain, then we can establish a known humidity with– (Jim) A standard? (Randy) Yes. Just a sanity check for us so we can set it into those who do NIST standard checks. We don’t do that here but it allows us to make sure we can send that in and check things out. (Jim) It was mentioned earlier that you go to the field to make checks there. What are some other things that you’re looking for on-site? (Randy) To get to those, first of all these are the only checks that we do inside, in-house. The rest of the checks we do through a fall and spring maintenance. Those are, for example, we do a rain gauge calibration test. We make sure that that is actually working, and monitoring whenever we do get rainfall. We also go through a cleaning process, which is to help maintain the accuracy in them. Where I come from, Western Kansas, where there’s quite a bit of dust blowing, we need to clean them pretty often– (Jim) You are right. It does get a little windy out there. Folks, we have to take a break right now. Stay with us. We’ll be back after these words from our sponsor. See you in a minute.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I am Jim Shroyer. With us, we have Randy Mai, the field technologist or the field tech for the Weather Data Library and Mesonet Group here. Randy, tell us what we have behind us here. (Randy) Directly behind as we have a 10-foot tripod and a 30-foot tower, which is representative of all the stations, we have across the state of Kansas. (Jim) This is one of the 56. (Randy) This is one of the 56, yes, sir. (Jim) Kind of take us through what’s down there. (Randy) Well the 30-foot tower has- basically the thing that’s the difference between the 10-foot tower it has one additional wind vane on it or anemometer, so that’s the largest difference. We’re moving from the 10-foot to the 30-foot. We’re trying to upgrade all those 10-foot towers across the state. (Jim) Was does a little puppy like that cost in ballpark to put in? (Randy) Outfitted the way it is roughly $20,000 dollars. (Jim) Then you have upkeep and that can be probably 10%. (Randy) Easily, yes. (Jim) That’s each year? (Randy) Yes and that’s assuming that nothing really goes wrong with it like lightning strike or fire or something of that nature. (Jim) You have both of those this year? (Randy) Unfortunately, we have. (Jim) What’s on the tripod? (Randy) On the tripod you have an eight-foot anemometer, which measures the wind speed and the wind direction, also has solar radiation, barometric pressure, temperature, relative humidity. On the 10-foot tripod we do have a rain gauge, a tipping bucket rain gauge, which measures just a the moisture but it’s not heated. On the 30-foot tower we have a heated ring gauge. If it gathers any type of snow, it has a proximity switch in it, which will go ahead, and kick on a heater, melt the snow and measure the amount of moisture. (Jim) You don’t lose that? (Randy) That’s correct. (Jim) Okay, Randy, thanks for taking time, I appreciate it. (Randy) Thank you, sir. (Jim) Folks, we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors. See you then.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer and in this last segment we have Dan Regier from Harvey County. He is the web and database manager for the Weather Data Library at K-State. Dan, that’s a big title. I know you got lots of responsibility, so kind of tell us how do you get the data and we’ve seen the stations at the various locations and so how do you get it, what do you do with it, and who uses it? (Dan Regier) Right, so the stations collect data obviously that gets transmitted wirelessly via cellphone modems to our weather data call-up machine. That machine compiles all the data that we have into files that I then read into the database. From that database, I’m then tasked with running quality control on these data. That’s a big project. At this point it’s pretty rudimentary. There are many things you can do just to make sure that the data that’s coming in is good. You can verify that you don’t have a sensor that’s going bad or if there’s fire that’s run over the tower or something. (Jim) Like we had this past year, Dan, in south central Kansas. (Dan) Precisely or we had a lightning strike recently also. Yes, so you want to make sure that the data coming in is reliable data because those who are using it for research need to know that they’re looking at what was actually happening with the weather, and not something that a sensor just made up. (Jim) Right. Okay, so what do you do with it then? You’ve got it coming in, so what do you do with it? (Dan) Then we have our data, we think it’s good, we’ve run our tests on it. So then the question is, first of all, how do you protect it to make sure that it’s available for use a long time to come and then secondly, how do you get it to the people who want to use it and need to use it? So a lot of my job in the past six months has been just shoring up our database structure and our backup system so that we can keep this data safe. Going forward is this open ended project of how do we disseminate the data? Who wants to use it and how do they want to use it? So for our Kansas Mesonet homepage, this is what you’re going to see when you first click on it. We have all of our stations are represented on here. You can click on various stations. This is pretty dramatic right now. We’re at a time when a cold front is coming through. It’s 42 degrees up in northwestern Kansas, 77 in southeast Kansas. So pretty fun to watch. We can also look at the 24-hour precipitation and the current wind speeds. One of the new tools that we’ve introduced in this past fall is the freeze monitor. This is a page that gives us all the 24-hour low temperature for each of our stations. It also tells us how many— (Jim) How many hours below freezing. (Dan) Exactly and then how many hours below 24 degrees which is— (Jim) Which is really cold. (Dan) Right and important for wheat production is my understanding. Along with that, we have all the data down here. Let me go back to our—we have all the data down here which is then sortable. So if you want to know which station had the lowest temperature in the past 24 hours, you can click on that and you can see it is Cheyenne up there in northwest Kansas which is— (Jim) Dropping down to freezing. (Dan) Cool and getting cooler. Also, on our Mesonet page we have some agricultural tools. We have growing degrees, which allow you to look at the growing degrees for corn and sorghum. (Jim) At the various locations. (Dan) We also have the ability to pull historical weather. So if you want to know what the temperature has looked like for the last week in Manhattan or what it looked like this week two years ago in comparison, we can pull that data and you have all of this and you can pull than into your Excel spreadsheet if you’re a researcher or jot it down in your diary if you’re just interested in what that time of year the temperature was. (Jim) Dan, I really appreciate this. You’ve really done a good job. You’ve really updated here, as of late, haven’t you? Thanks for being with us on this episode of That’s My Farm and don’t forget next week about this same time will be another episode of That’s My Farm. See you then.

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