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New Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) Demo Set For Nov. 20 At Lake Alfred “Open House”

Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

Howard Beck (352) 392-3196
John Jackson
David Ayers (352) 343-4101

LAKE ALFRED—The Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN), a new agricultural weather data information service developed and operated by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, will be demonstrated Nov. 20 at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.

The demo will be part of an open house program at the center for growers and others interested in UF/IFAS research and education programs.

The Lake Alfred weather station will be one of 15 sites in central and south Florida where weather data is collected and transmitted to a UF/IFAS computer in Gainesville. Additional stations will be added during the next month, and the 15-station network is expected to be fully operational by Jan. 1. Beginning Dec. 15, weather data will be available by telephone from Gainesville (352) 846-3100 or the following Internet website:

“For the price of a phone call to Gainesville, growers will be able 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 with UF/IFAS. “For the first time, growers will be able to get specific weather data directly from stations located in or near their local production areas.”

Each solar-powered weather station will measure 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 will be recorded continuously and transmitted to the main computer in Gainesville at 15 minute intervals. A backup computer for the network will be housed at the Citrus REC in Lake Alfred.

Beck designed the computer software to gather, store and report weather data. He set up a communications network that uses the Internet to retrieve data from each weather station, and he created an archival database management system to store the data. He also designed the telephone dial-up system and website that will include maps and graphs.

John Jackson, Lake County extension agent and FAWN coordinator, 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, have developed over the past nine years. In addition to Lake Alfred, weather stations will be located at UF/IFAS research and education centers in Apopka, Belle Glade, Bradenton, Dover, Fort Pierce, Homestead, Immokalee and Ona.

Jackson said federal mandates in February 1996 prevented the National Weather Service from providing specialized frost and freeze warnings for agriculture and other “special interest” groups.

“When a major freeze hit central and south Florida in January 1997, growers suffered a $300 million loss, and the need for accurate and timely agricultural weather data became urgent,” he said. “Grower organizations, spearheaded by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) 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.”

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-Florida, and Fort Pierce grower Pete Spyke also participated.

Jackson said FAWN was established with the help of a special $125,000 appropriation from the 1997 Florida Legislature. Additional funds will be sought in 1998 for personnel and improved software to help warn growers about freezes that can devastate the state’s fruit and vegetable industry.

“An ongoing program is needed to provide agriculture with accurate weather data that can be used to assist forecasters and develop models, establish historical records and interact with other databases,” Jackson said. “FAWN is the first step toward developing accurate and reliable weather data, and we hope growers will find the system useful in preventing future freeze damage.”