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Predicting Mother Nature: Weather stations to aid agriculture, emergency response

Release Date: 22 Nov 2022
Predicting Mother Nature: Weather stations to aid agriculture, emergency response

New Mexico will soon become home to the highest number of weather stations in the United States, thanks to appropriations of federal and state funding to expand the state’s existing weather station network.

The ZiaMet Weather Station Network will consist of weather stations at each of the state’s 12 agricultural science centers, which are operated by the NMSU Agricultural Experiment Station in the College of ACES, along with other areas throughout New Mexico. As of June 30, 2022, there were 97 weather stations in New Mexico, with 66 installed during the first phase of the weather station expansion project that began in summer 2021.

“The weather station network is critical to our ability to inform producers, scientists and citizens with real time data regarding weather,” said Leslie Edgar, NMSU Agricultural Experiment Station director and ACES associate dean of research. “This expansion will allow us to provide greater support to New Mexico by elevating research in an area that impacts our daily lives and will allow our agricultural producers to make more effective decisions regarding production.”

Several counties and rural areas in New Mexico still lack weather stations, which help provide information on surface weather conditions and sub-surface soil conditions. The information may be viewed at https://weather.nmsu.edu/.

“More high-quality data leads to more accurate forecasts and more well-informed decision making during critical weather situations,” said David DuBois, New Mexico state climatologist and director of the New Mexico Climate Center. “This data, in turn, allows the National Weather Service to improve the performance of their mission of providing accurate and timely forecasts and warnings for the projection of life and property, and the enhancement of the national economy.”

During the recent fires, the weather station at the John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center at Mora, New Mexico, was used to monitor conditions in real time. “With the expansion of the ZiaMet Weather Station Network, NMSU will have greater capacity to work with our agency partners to explore additional areas of support, such as early monitoring for emergencies and greater capacity with climate change monitoring and mitigation,” Edgar said.

Brooke Boren, NMSU Agriculture Experiment Station director of land and assets, called the expansion project a team effort organized with the help of NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu’s office, the College of ACES, NMSU Procurement Services, the NMSU Real Estate Office and Facilities and Services.

“It was a group effort with a lot of collaboration across the university to make this happen,” Boren said.

The NMSU AES received additional one-time state funds in the amount of $1 million and one-time federal funds, which U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich helped procure, in the amount of $1.821 million for fiscal year 2023 for the second phase of the ZiaMet expansion. Phase II expansion which will result in 118 new stations, for a total of 215 stations as of June 30, 2023.

 

In 2022, recurring state funds in the amount of $925,000 were allocated to NMSU AES for the continuing operation, maintenance and staffing of ZiaMet weather network.

“The expansion of the ZiaMet network helps fill both temporal and spatial gaps that the federally owned programs such as the airport Automated Surface Observing System stations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Cooperative Observer Program, and the weather radar do not sufficiently cover,” DuBois said.

The weather network also received $922,600 in one-time state funds for fiscal year 2022.

Monitoring the weather is especially important to the state’s agricultural industry as the state, like the rest of the world, sees steadily increasing temperatures and severe weather-related events as a result of climate change. Weather information is also important to emergency responders who must be prepared for any extreme weather event such as flooding.

“Our network expands our knowledge of how drought and precipitation events are linked through soil moisture,” DuBois said. “Our network provides instrumental-based estimation of evapotranspiration that forms the basis for water conservation efforts and precision agricultural efforts.”

DuBois said a project has begun to help flood irrigators, such as pecan orchard farmers, to use a tool to time irrigation and help in water conservation.

Because the data collected by the weather network is available to the public and is sent to the National Mesonet Program, it can be accessed by emergency planning organization, including fire management officials, on the day of a burn in near real time.

“For example, during the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, our weather station at the J.T. Harrington Forestry Research Center in Mora provided critical dew point temperatures and temperature data during the hours that the fire was cresting in the mountains above the valley,” DuBois said.

The weather network may also play a role in long-term monitoring and decision-making during wildfire season.

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