Weather is a crucial factor in agricultural operations in Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) purchased ten Capricorn EX weather stations with a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to supplement the information from existing AWOS stations at local airports (which are few and far between).
Scattered at diverse locations including the Oregon Gardens, Basket Slough National Wildlife Refuge, municipal fire stations, and a high school, the Capricorn weather stations have provided important information for specific programs in both the livestock and grass seed industries.
The first program was a demonstration project for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). Large-scale livestock and dairy operations are regulated to prevent environmental pollution. The animal waste is stored in ponds and then sprayed on fields as fertilizers. If the ground is already saturated, the runoff can pollute local bodies of water.
The CAFO project combined rainfall measurements with National Weather Service digital forecast data to develop a Manure Spreading Index (MSI) to provide farmers with decision-making information to help protect local waterways. The MSI was a seasonal product available on-line at http://oda.state.or.us/nrd/fb/msi/msi.htm and via the ODA phone hotline.
The main purpose for the ODA weather stations, in the summer, is to help with the regulation of field burning.
Grass seed is a $380 million business, the fourth largest agricultural product in the State of Oregon. General operating practices include field burning in this major transportation corridor of the Willamette Valley. When winds reach 15 knots the smoke will not rise and disperse away from populated areas. The goal of the program is to allow the growers to use this important field management tool, while protecting the general public from smoke impacts.
"Our smoke management program has become complex and fine-turned over the years," says Pete Parsons, meteorologist for the ODA. "We continuously track changes in temperature and wind patterns across the Willamette Valley during the summer field burning season. Having additional weather stations, strategically positioned throughout the valley, can alert us to subtle changes in temperature and wind patterns that can greatly affect smoke dispersal."
The weather stations are polled from the central office and are labeled as "ODA" stations on the MesoWest weather network athttp://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mesowest/mwmap.php?map=pqr.
"Being able to view information from the ODA weather stations, alongside of data from National Weather Service and Cooperative observer sites, really helps us get a complete snapshot of the weather patterns across the region," says Parsons.
The information is broadcast over radio to seasonal field workers monitoring the burns. "Radio communications are fast and also accessible to the farmers," Parsons says.
Especially closely monitored are the sea breezes that reach the valley, almost every summer afternoon, through the Van Duzer Corridor of the Coast Mountain Range. "Having additional weather instruments helps us track the almost daily onset of the sea breeze, as it pours from west to east across the valley," Parsons explains. Tracking the sea breeze helps ODA shut down field burning, before surface winds become too strong.
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