The Importance of Weather Data - Kentucky Farm Bureau

The Importance of Weather Data

Posted on Jul 9, 2024

The old saying, "If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change,” can probably be associated with any place at any time. But for farm families who rely on the weather information, getting the data on and off the farm is essential when adjusting their daily activities.

As director of the state’s comprehensive weather data collection system, the Kentucky Mesonet, Dr. Jerry Brotzge, wears many meteorological hats including that of a professor in meteorology at WKU, the state climatologist, and director of the Kentucky Climate Center.

He said having such a broad network of weather data collecting stations, such as the Mesonet, helps to see and understand more about our weather patterns across the state.

“You get a lot of spatial variability in the summer months and it's very easy for a thunderstorm to precipitate an inch on one farm, but miss another adjacent farm entirely,” he said. “So, having a dense weather network is important for capturing that variability.”

Brotzge pointed out that in the historical record, data was recorded once per day, providing a limited amount of data such as a typical daily average of rainfall.

“But we didn't know what the average was for an hour of rainfall, or the average for a five-minute period,” he said. “If you're an engineer trying to design your town's water system or a flood control system, those numbers are very important. Having what we call higher fidelity data is very important for a lot of purposes including farming.”

Monitoring weather conditions is as high-tech as it gets today, but it hasn’t always been that way. Brotzge said that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather observation program was started in 1895 through the Cooperative Observer Program.

“And since 1895, we've had volunteers across the state, go out every morning at 7:00 AM and write down the daily high and low and precipitation for those 24 hours," he said. "We still have volunteers that do that."

While that may sound a bit archaic to some, Brotzge said it’s important to get those numbers because every county is so unique. It’s especially while in a convective pattern, during the summertime. It’s very common for one area to miss out altogether during a rainfall event. A convective pattern allows warm air from the earth’s surface to rise into the atmosphere causing cloud formations and precipitation. Collecting that data forms the basis of Kentucky’s weather history.

“The number of (human) stations has varied over the years, depending on the volunteers but the unfortunate thing is, because it's volunteers, it's difficult to get a long-term record in the same spot over an extended period,” Brotzge said. “What's more common is, you'll have a volunteer maybe for 10 years or as many as 40 years in one spot, and after they retire, it's difficult to find a replacement at that location. So, the addition of an automated network like a Mesonet is just incredibly valuable for filling in those gaps.”

With the inception of the Mesonet in 2007, and going forward, for the first time there is a consistent dense network that's able to fill in those gaps across the state, in every county, as it develops comprehensive climate data for Kentucky, something that is exciting, Brotzge emphasized.

An expanding Mesonet system will help to ensure that the collection of information is being recorded, in real-time, across the state.

“For our farmers, I think the exciting news is that we're expanding, and our goal is to have a station in every county,” Brotzge said.

There are currently 82 stations across the Commonwealth, each equipped with a variety of monitoring devices that can measure conditions such as air temperature, wind speed, wind direction, precipitation, and soil temperatures.

While the Mesonet is known to commercial weather agencies and media weather outlets, that may not be the case for the general public. Brotzge said getting the word out about all the capabilities the system has is important.

“We work hard at getting the word out about the Mesonet and the value of the weather information we have, and every day that goes by, we have a longer archive,” he said. “That makes it even more valuable because we understand that the longer weather archive you have, the more you understand both the weather of Kentucky, the climatology, and also, the variability across the state.”

The Mesonet does enjoy a partnership with the National Weather Service, such that all the data collected goes to the National Weather Service in real-time.

“All of our data goes into a national database that is then used and feeds their National Weather Service operational weather forecast models,” Brotzge said. “It's those weather forecasts that provide the basis for all the commercial weather firms, all the commercial weather forecasts, as well as the forecasts that you see on your evening news.”

He added that the data from the Kentucky Mesonet helps to improve the forecasts across all of Kentucky, whether it's coming directly from the National Weather Service, from the TV media, or commercial weather firms.

Weather conditions this year

For many farmers, it was a challenging planting season with extended periods of rain. Ironically, the data showed slightly above normal rainfall for January, slightly below normal for February, with a fairly dry March with about 60 percent of average rainfall for the state, and then a slightly below normal April.

But things changed greatly in May when so many producers are normally hitting the planting season hard.

 “Officially, we were somewhere around 156 percent above normal, the sixth wettest May on record,” Brotzge said. “We're in what we would call a transition pattern between El Nino to a developing La Nina system, but right now, that's not really playing a role in our summertime weather.”

He added that the seasonal forecast by NOAA is calling for slightly above normal chances for above normal precipitation through August, and in looking at previous years, has experienced a pattern of wet springs, or at least, generally above normal precipitation not only for the spring but even into summer.

Kentucky has also seen an unusual number of tornadoes this year, many of which did not touch down but when they did, they caused extensive damage in many areas of the state.

Brotzge said more modern equipment can help in seeing where these types of storms are occurring before they reach certain areas.

“It can be very scary to some people, but it's always good to hear that information ahead of time, so you can make plans to get to a safe spot,” he said.

To get a first-hand look at the information the Mesonet provides, go to


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