Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) Adds New Monitoring Stations At Alachua And Hastings

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

Source(s):
Larry Treadaway (407) 884-2034
John Jackson (352) 343-4101
Pat Cockrell (352) 374-1545

adjusting equipment on the new FAWN station
View Photo

GAINESVILLE—Moving two steps closer to the goal of completing a statewide weather network, the University of Florida has added new monitoring stations at Alachua and Hastings to the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN). “These two new stations will serve North Central and Northeast Florida, expanding the coverage of our 15-station FAWN system that’s been online in Central and South Florida since 1997,” said Larry Treadaway, FAWN field site coordinator with the UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The network now includes a total of 17 sites where weather data is continuously collected and transmitted to a UF computer in Gainesville every 15 minutes.

The first new monitoring station is at the UF Agronomy Forage Research Unit, located about 5 miles east of Alachua, and the second station is at the UF Hastings Research and Education Center, about 17 miles southwest of St. Augustine.

Treadaway said funds for the Hastings facility came from the North Florida Growers Exchange and the Putnam and St. Johns County Farm Bureaus. Initial funding for the FAWN network was provided by the Florida Legislature in 1997, and additional money from private and public sources is being sought to complete the FAWN network.

“Next year, we will extend coverage across North Florida and the Panhandle with additional monitoring stations in Live Oak, Monticello, Quincy, Marianna and Jay,” he said. “This will give growers and producers 24-hour coverage of the entire state.”

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.

“We invite everyone to visit the FAWN Web site to see current weather conditions as well as the unique and educational weather data graphing java applet,” Treadaway said. “Also available are daily, weekly and monthly data summaries, charts of chilling degree days and historical data charts.”

The FAWN database in Gainesville and Web site are maintained by the UF/IFAS Office of Information Technology, which is adding new features to the service to help producers manage their operations more efficiently. 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 management programs.

John Jackson, a Lake County extension agent who helped establish the system, said the agricultural weather data information service was designed to help warn the state’s $7 billion fruit, vegetable and environmental horticulture industries 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 in 1996, most growers were not aware of the federal cutback,” said Jackson. “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.”

Jackson said various grower organizations, spearheaded by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association in Orlando, formed the Florida Agricultural Weather Task Force in cooperation with UF. The task force helped obtain funding for IFAS to develop and operate the new weather data network based in Gainesville.

“As a public domain network, FAWN provides weather data from 17 surface locations that can be used by the National Weather Service and private firms to develop accurate short-range and long-range forecasts. The data also is very valuable to growers by providing localized weather information when a freeze is actually occurring,” Jackson said.

Weather data from the network is available on the FAWN Voice Data System at (352) 846-3100 or at the FAWN 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 Pat Cockrell, director of agricultural policy with the Florida Farm Bureau in Gainesville and chair of the weather task force. “Growers now can get specific weather data directly from stations located in or near their local production areas.

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

Other task force participants include Florida Citrus Mutual, 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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