Climate Web site

first_imgBy Sharon OmahenUniversity of GeorgiaMother Nature appears to be cutting Georgia farmers some slack sofar this year. And a new, three-state Web site can help themprepare for whatever the weather offers.”Now’s the time to prepare for rough weather,” said Joel Paz, anExtension agrometeorologist with the University of GeorgiaCollege of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “We’re havinga normal-weather year this year. When you’re experiencing an ElNiño, you have to have your contingency plans ready.”Paz is on a multi-university team of researchers who havedeveloped the Web resource to help farmers stay ahead of theweather. The site can help them prepare for many weatherconditions driven by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)phenomenon.ForecastsThe Southeast Climate Consortium issues quarterly forecasts tohelp farmers in Alabama, Florida and Georgia manage their crops.The forecasts are on-line at www.agclimate.org.The SECC Web site uses data collected from university resourcesand the National Climate Data Center. It’s based on more than 50years of weather data. And it provides monthly rainfall andtemperature forecasts for Alabama, Florida and Georgia counties.It offers advice, too, for neutral, El Niño and La Niña ENSOphases. Florida State University’s Center for Ocean-AtmosphericPrediction Studies produces the SECC climate forecasts.At the Tallahassee center, researchers monitor surfacetemperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator to predictpotential weather effects in the southeastern United States.Periodic warming or cooling of those ocean surfaces, known as ElNiño or La Niña, can affect U.S. weather patterns. El Niños bringincreased winter rainfall. La Niñas have the opposite effect.Neutral phasePacific Ocean surface temperatures are near normal now, or in aneutral phase.Farmers make many business decisions based on unknown weatherconditions, Paz said. They decide whether to buy crop insuranceor grow a particular crop.The AgClimate Web site allows them to select their county, soiltype, irrigation method and past yields. The site creates apersonalized prediction of the farmer’s yields based on hisfields, the climate forecast and planting dates.The site has data for peanuts, potatoes and tomatoes. The teamplans to add cotton and other Southeastern vegetable crops soon.The site covers cold weather factors, too. Farmers who growpeaches, blueberries, strawberries and other fruits will benefitfrom the chilling-hours data.”There’s a big difference between climate data and weather data,”Paz said. “Weather information is used day-to-day. Climateinformation affects farmers’ future decisions, including varietyselection and management regimens.”More than farmersThe Web site was designed for farmers. But Paz says many othergroups will find the climate information useful.”We’re starting to target the information to government agencieslike the emergency management agencies,” he said. “And we’vefound that water-resource managers also find the data quiteuseful.”The Web site data predicts the likelihood of wildfires, too. Itforecasts little chance of wildfires this summer, due to recentheavy rains, the likelihood of a wet summer and the end of theSoutheast’s traditional wildfire season, which runs from Januarythrough early June.The SECC’s fall outlook, due in early September, will indicatewhether the neutral phase is continuing, Paz said.As with most weather and climate projects, there’s always amargin of error.”We look at probabilities based on history,” he said. “Our Website is accurate. But you’ve always got to give yourself somewiggle room.”SECC member universities, besides UGA, are Auburn,Alabama-Huntsville, Florida, Florida State and Miami.The SECC is funded by the National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration’s Office of Global Programs, the U.S. Departmentof Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education andExtension Service and the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of GeorgiaCollege of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)last_img

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