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New Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) Goes Online

By:
Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

Source(s):
Howard Beck (352) 392-3196
John Jackson / David Ayers (352) 343-4101
Pete Spyke (800) 288-8447

GAINESVILLE—With a few taps on a computer keyboard, University of Florida scientists today booted up the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN), a new agricultural weather data information service that will help warn the state’s $7 billion fruit and vegetable industry about devastating freezes.

The network fills a gap left By the National Weather Service in 1996, when it discontinued weather programs for agricultural producers and other groups.

“When Congress pulled the plug on specialized frost and freeze warnings last year, most growers were not aware of the federal cutback,” said John Jackson, extension agent with the UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “But the January 1997 freeze changed all that.

“The costly and largely unpredicted freeze hit Central and South Florida, causing a $300 million loss and leaving many growers feeling burned By the available weather forecasting system,”Jackson said. “The need for accurate and timely agricultural weather information became urgent.”

FAWN will include 16 sites in Central and South Florida where weather data is collected and transmitted to a UF computer in GAINESVILLE. Ten weather station sites are operating now, and the entire 16 station network will be fully operational By the end of January.

Jackson said various grower organizations, spearheaded By the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association in Orlando, felt it was time to deal with the gap in weather information and formed the Florida Agricultural Weather Task Force in cooperation with the UF. The task force helped obtain funding for IFAS to develop and operate the new weather data network based in GAINESVILLE.

Pete Spyke, president of Arapaho Citrus Management in Fort Pierce and a task force member, said the new network will provide weather data, not weather forecasts.

“As a public domain network, FAWN will provide weather data from 16 surface locations that can be used By the National Weather Service and private forecasters to develop accurate short-range and long-range forecasts. This data also will be very valuable to growers By providing localized weather information when a freeze is actually occurring,” he said.

Spyke said growers are looking at FAWN as a source of reliable information not only for cold protection, but also for new technologies in pest control, irrigation scheduling and other grove management programs.

Weather data from the network is available By telephone at (352) 846-3100 or the following Web site: http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu.

“For the price of a phone call to GAINESVILLE, growers can now access a user friendly, voice-synthesized information system to obtain real-time weather data from these sites 24 hours daily,” said Howard Beck, associate professor of information technology at UF. “For the first time, growers can get specific weather data directly from stations located in or near their local production areas.”

Each solar-powered weather station measures temperatures at two, six and 30 feet above ground, soil temperature, wind speed and direction, rainfall, relative humidity, barometric pressure, leaf wetness and solar radiation. Weather data is recorded continuously and transmitted to the main computer in GAINESVILLE at 15-minute intervals. A backup computer for the network is at the UF Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.

Beck set up a communications network that uses the Internet to retrieve data from each weather station, and he created the network’s database management system. He also designed the telephone dial-up system and W eb site that includes maps and graphs.

Jackson, who coordinates FAWN, said six of the sites are part of the existing Lake County/Orange County Extension weather network that he and David Ayers, senior computer support specialist for UF, developed over the past nine years. Ayers designed the computer software to gather, store and report weather data, and handled engineering for new tower sites in Apopka, Belle Glade, Bradenton, Dover, Fort Pierce, Homestead, Immokalee, Lake Alfred and Ona.

Jackson said FAWN was established with the help of a special $125,000 appropriation from the 1997 Florida Legislature. Additional money will be sought in 1998 for personnel and software to improve the accuracy of freeze warnings and provide additional data for pest control and irrigation scheduling.

“FAWN is the first step toward developing accurate and reliable weather data, and we hope growers will find the network to be a valuable asset in their farming operations,” he said.

Other task force participants include Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Nursery and Growers Association, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The office of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., also participated.

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