Posted by Weatherflow ● March, 2023
Tempest News | March 2023
...with Dr. Matthew Burns, Assistant Director of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service. Burns and his team at Clemson University are spearheading an innovative effort to establish a mesonet in South Carolina, deploying Tempest Weather Stations across the state, most at farms and rural locations with minimal weather monitoring technology.
Q: CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT YOU DO AT CLEMSON?
A: I got my undergraduate at Clemson and then went on to receive a master's degree at Kansas State University, mainly revolving around cattle production and beef cattle management. Then I went back and started working as an area livestock agent in the upstate of South Carolina while completing my Ph.D. in animal 4H systems. After I completed that, I moved into a specialist role. While working with our local producers, it became extremely apparent that we had many microclimates within the state, which further prompted us to prioritize the Mesonet in South Carolina. I worked with multiple teams, from water resource managers to those with a climate-based perspective and others in agriculture.
Q: TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE MESONET.
A: From a livestock perspective, the priority is rainfall. But then we heard from some local fruit consortium agents. Currently, in this part of the world, it's 75 degrees outside. Small fruit growers have peach trees and blueberries starting to push bloom or push bud. But we know there's still going to be some cold weather in store for certain areas, and that's where those hyperlocal weather measurements become critical. We reached out to our state climate office because they're the ones that make a lot of calls, for example, drought or freeze declarations. We realized that there were gaps where they weren't getting good data or didn't have data at all. So we put together a proposal and approached our administration to see if we could get some support, which we did.
The first phase was to try to address those holes that were identified working with the state climate office, putting Tempest stations in areas where we weren't getting any weather data. We've expanded and now have a full-time weather technician named Chris Thomas who has installed at least one Tempest station in all 46 counties across the state of South Carolina (though some counties have more than one). So it started as a very hyperlocal need. And we tried to stay true to that local need and put these stations out in rural areas where we might not be getting good weather data.
A map of Tempest stations that make up the Clemson University Mesonet.
Q: YOUR WIFE IS THE DIRECTOR OF 4H PROGRAMS AT THE CLEMSON EXTENSION. DO THE YOUTH PARTICIPANTS OF THE PROGRAM ALSO UTILIZE TEMPEST FOR ANYTHING?
A: Yes, we have a 4H agent down in the lower part of the state named Miracle Lewis doing really great stuff. She wrote a small proposal also to do some web curriculum in K -12 classrooms in her particular area. She teaches those kids about the weather using the Tempest as a talking point. There's also some discussion about incorporating Tempests into our small garden project where there are active gardens, you know, around in or around Elementary School. Pair a Tempest Weather Station with that small garden, and now you're able to look at actual rainfall versus how much water is needed and when the best day to water might be. Essentially comparing weather with the requirements of a small garden.
Q: CLEMSON HAS AN AWESOME HOME AND GARDEN INFORMATION CENTER WEBSITE. IT PROVIDES A TON OF PLANT AND GARDENING ADVICE, PLUS RESOURCES LIKE EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS. HOW DID THAT GET STARTED?
A: Our Home and Garden Information Center is the most visited website within the Clemson framework. And it started, again, out of need. A lot of the calls and questions that come into any of our local 46 county offices across the state have to do with home horticulture in some way. So it started as a central place to house all those general questions. It also became a place for us to welcome experts - our home and garden information agents - that are the boots on the ground and are amazing at what they do. They field calls from all over the world, not only from South Carolina residents. They provide basic home and garden information, from interpreting a soil sample to identifying freeze and frost damage on certain crops to food preservation and canning. It started as a very small concept, but when COVID shut things down, the Home and Garden Information Center grew exponentially. Not only do they take phone calls, but they also write fact sheets and helpful one-pagers; they have a blog and a newsletter, and they try to have timely topics that come out. In the next couple of months, there'll be a lot of stuff about getting your garden going and running soil samples, and doing all those kinds of things to get ready for the big garden push in the spring.
Q: CAN YOU SPEAK TO THE IMPORTANCE OF WEATHER MONITORING SPECIFICALLY FOR AGRICULTURE?
A: This has been a joint partnership with Tempest and our state climate office that sets those drought declarations. Most of those drought declarations are done on a grid pattern, and they have insurance implications, helping confirm if you met drought status and how long you were there. They're looking for local measurements to make those drought determinations, so they ask for feedback from producers. That can be anecdotal evidence in the form of pictures of drought-stressed plants, but at the end of the day, what really provides proof are real measurements.
In the past year, we saw a phenomenon where the average rainfall didn't change much from month to month. But the intensity of rainfall events was higher. For example, where you might get three inches over a month in normal years, this year, we saw 2.75 inches of rain on the first day of the month, and then it didn't rain for 30 days. That amount of rain over a 30-minute period doesn't support our crops like a three-inch rain over 30 days. Once tuned and calibrated, Tempests are particularly helpful in sensing and reporting rain intensity down to the minute as well as number of minutes per day with rain. This capability and the related analysis by our team here at Clemson are revolutionary when compared with the traditional method of simply looking at accumulation.
Zack Snipes is one of the Horticulture Extension Agents that focuses on commercial vegetable and small fruit production. He helped spearhead another case study we ran last year with our small fruit growers. Different weather variables change how you frost protect. For example, the wind speed, humidity, dew point, and temperature all go into what recommendation our field staff will make to a producer to save that crop. Maybe that advice is to cover your blueberries or wet them down with water so that it protects them that way. Those are just two extreme cases where we're using hyperlocal weather data to inform our staff so that we can better help those producers that are out in the field, relying on that for their way of life.
- OTHER WEATHER NEWS -
RASPBERRY SHAKE BRINGS SEISMOLOGY TO THE MASSES
The Tempest Weather System provides a wealth of information about what's happening in the atmosphere, but what about what's shaking below ground? A recent article in the New York Times discusses a new and exciting way for people to monitor seismic activity in their own homes using a device called the Raspberry Shake. This small, affordable seismograph can be set up with ease, allowing individuals to track and record earthquakes and other ground movements with precision and accuracy.
FEEDBACK LOOPS ACCELERATE NEED FOR CLIMATE ACTION
An international study led by scientists at Oregon State University has identified more than 25 accelerators of global warming known as amplifying feedback loops. An amplifying feedback loop is a situation in which a change in the climate triggers a process that causes more warming, which then continues to amplify the original change. Based on its findings, the paper makes two calls to action regarding the urgency and quantity of reduced emissions necessary to avoid threshold tipping points.
CAN HUMANS MAKE MORE RAIN?
As longer and more severe droughts are being seen in the United States and globally, efforts to increase rainfall with rainmaking experiments like “cloud seeding” are being further investigated by researchers, institutions, and even businesses. Developments in technologies and techniques have come a long way since the idea came about in the 1940s. Still, difficulties in researching the effectiveness of cloud seeding make it hard to study the true quantitative benefits.
USDA INVESTING BIG IN CLIMATE RISK MANAGEMENT & COMBAT
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would invest more than $48.6 million this year through a program called the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership to use for projects that will mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality, restore forest ecosystems, and contribute to USDA’s efforts to combat climate change. The investment is split between 14 new projects across the United States and Guam and 25 existing projects.
RESEARCH LOOKS TO ANCIENT SEEDS TO IMPROVE FUTURE CROP SECURITY
The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) is home to over ten thousand different seeds, some as old as agriculture itself. Many crops today have been genetically engineered for large mass & high yields to feed our large populations, but this leaves the plants vulnerable to pests and changes in the weather or extreme weather accelerated by climate change. Scientists are now studying seeds from the ICARDA bank for possible solutions for increasing food security around the world.
GARDEN TOOL ESSENTIALS
As the planning stages of the high gardening season move into the preparation stages, having the right tools is important. While having the most expensive equipment on the market definitely isn’t necessary to create and maintain a garden, tools that are sturdy and durable will ensure your work gets done safely and efficiently.
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