John Grymes, Ward, Joshua, Clawson, Ernest L., Fontenot, Royce
The weather station Ward depends on is one of 25 stations the LSU AgCenter operates at AgCenter research stations and other cooperating locations throughout Louisiana, according to Jay Grymes, LSU AgCenter climatologist.
In Ward’s case, the animal nutrition scientist is researching how dairy cows respond to different feed rations and environments as weather changes, and the information from the weather station is "critical."
He is working with a heat stress index for dairy cattle that takes account of the relationship between temperature and relative humidity – the temperature-humidity index.
"Research has found that when the index is above 72 degrees, the weather is stressful on dairy cows," he said. "Even at night in South Louisiana, the temperature-humidity index can remain above 72 degrees, and cows never get a chance to cool off."
Ward is using the weather station to monitor temperature and humidity and correlate the results with cows’ performance under different conditions and feeding schedules.
As for the weather station that is contributing to this research, it is part of an LSU AgCenter program known as the Louisiana Agriclimatic Information System. The original parts of that system were established in the early 1980s to support AgCenter research and service activities, Grymes said.
In addition to providing support to researchers like Ward, data collected by the help sugarcane farmers with smoke management.
"They can use the forecast from the weather service, but monitoring is the bottom line," Grymes said. "They use the online data as a monitor to find out wind direction and speed in order to know if it’s safe to burn."
Each LSU AgCenter weather station provides real-time data over the Internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Grymes said.
"We provide a full suite of meteorological parameters," the climatologist said. "These are highly sophisticated weather stations with rugged instrumentation."
Each station provides minute-by-minute measurements of air temperature, rainfall, wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity, solar radiation and soil temperature.
"We provide data to Louisiana agriculture that no one else does," said Royce Fontenot, coordinator of the Louisiana Agriclimatic Information System, which is managed by the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.
Fontenot said the system has the potential to tailor raw data into valuable models that can be used by farmers for such activities as scheduling irrigation and measuring accumulated growing degree days for estimating maturity of crops such as cotton and rice.
Besides its use in sugarcane burning, the wind readings also help farmers and agricultural suppliers decide if conditions are right for spraying pesticides.
Another weather component – solar radiation – measures "the input of energy into our system," Fontenot said. "Solar energy is responsible for evaporation, plant growth and a number of other things."
Fontenot said utility companies can use that data to estimate energy use and demand. He also pointed out this Louisiana system is the only weather station network measuring solar radiation.
"The data is there," he said. "The data is free.
"If you use weather data, we have a great network out there," Fontenot said. "It provides real-time data no one else has."
Dr. Ernie Clawson, an agronomist at the LSU AgCenter’s Northeast Research Station in St. Joseph, is installing a weighing lysimeter at the station. This instrument consists of a large of container of soil planted to a crop, and water use is measured by changes in the container weight.
The results, Clawson said, can be useful in predicting irrigation needs. Once lysimeter results are correlated to weather variables, farmers will be able to use weather station data to estimate the mount of water a crop uses.
"The weather station is valuable in several ways," Clawson said. "We use growing degree days to predict crop development, and we’re using soil temperature measurements in a study to development cotton planting date recommendations for farmers.
"There’s a lot of potential for use," he said. "There’s good data for anyone who wants to dig into it."
Grymes said the weather information is valuable to more than farmers and agricultural researchers. It’s even used by the U.S. Weather Service.
"We can track weather systems in real time," he said. "And schools can use the Web site for educational purposes."
The climatologist added that pipeline transportation companies can adapt the temperature and humidity readings to help them manage oil and gas transmissions that fluctuate with changing weather.
"The network is becoming a reliable tool," Grymes said. "Agriculture is about half the potential users. There are so many others."
The Louisiana Agriclimatic Information System can be found on the Internet at http://www.agctr.lsu.edu/weather.