PULLMAN — Washington State University’s AgWeatherNet is reorganizing with new staff and more weather stations after a year with no meteorologist.
Nicholas Loyd left that position, based at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, last August to take a job with the state Department of Ecology.
AgWeatherNet is a network of 174 automated agricultural weather stations in Washington providing current and historical weather data and a range of models and decision aids for farmers. It normally operates on an $800,000 annual budget with 8.5 staff positions but currently is at 6.5.
No one took Loyd’s place doing data quality control and meteorology extension for a year. David Brown, 55, associate professor of soil science, became AgWeatherNet director last November.
“I came in after Nic was gone. The whole weather world was changing and we needed different expertise and more meteorological and data syncing,” Brown said.
He reorganized staff positions from one meteorologist, two field technicians and one lab engineer into three field meteorologists. The three will increase collaboration with WSU researchers in their locales and handle maintenance of the 174 stations that field techs had done.
One of the field techs, Jonathan Contezac, became field meteorologist in Mount Vernon on Aug. 1. Instrument calibration is his expertise, and he previously worked for one of the nation’s best state weather networks in Oklahoma, Brown said.
Craig Oswald became the new field meteorologist in Prosser on Aug. 15. He has a master’s degree in operational forecasting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for a private weather company in Utah. He will interpret forecasts and forecast models for specific crops and locations.
A third field meteorologist, yet to be hired, will be stationed in Wenatchee.
“Our big focus is providing better site-specific weather data and forecasts and feeding this into our models and into the Decision Aid System and any other support tools growers might want to use,” Brown said.
The WSU Decision Aid System uses current and historic weather data from AgWeatherNet for insect and disease models to help growers know when to combat pests and diseases.
The 174 stations monitor air temperature, relative humidity, dew point temperatures, soil temperatures at 8 inches, rainfall, wind speed, wind direction, solar radiation and leaf wetness. Variables are recorded every 5 seconds and summarized every 15 minutes, providing a running record of weather affecting agriculture.
Growers want greater site specific information. With improvements in technology, stations can be built for $2,000 and maintained for $1,000 per year versus $8,000 and $2,000 in the past, Brown said.
Growers, companies, conservation districts and others have built an additional 13 stations for which AgWeatherNet is managing data and sending the owners weather alerts.
“Because of topography, this state has complex weather patterns. Ideally, we would like to have 500 stations to give us the resolution we need,” Brown said.
AgWeatherNet will job shadow Clearwest Inc., an agricultural weather forecast company in Wenatchee, for a year to take over the service when Clearwest principals retire, Brown said.
Run by two retired National Weather Service meteorologists, Clearwest specializes in forecasts through the spring frost season for tree fruit and winegrape growers.