MISSOULA – Montana landowners across the state now have access to hourly reports of soil moisture, temperature, soil quality, rainfall and more. The Montana Climate Office launched the Montana Mesonet information network this past summer, installing wireless weather stations at 13 sites across Big Sky Country.
Based at the University of Montana, the climate office embraces a cooperative approach that addresses a diverse set of information needs. The expansion of Montana Mesonet will benefit landowners, watershed groups, agencies, nonprofits, commercial interests and others.
“No one entity can ensure sustained operation and success of a statewide climate and soil moisture information network,” said climate office Director Kelsey Jencso. “This statewide network is being advanced by Montanans for Montanans.”
The network data collecting stations will help landowners learn about drought, estimate when to irrigate crops, help schedule crop planting and harvesting, predict long-term stability of croplands and watersheds, predict changes in rangeland and forest productivity in relation to changes in soil moisture and temperature, predict pest and disease outbreaks, and predict changes in runoff that could lead to flooding.
Quantifying even small changes in water availability is significant for Montanans who make decisions that balance risks and costs. In 2014, 27,800 farm operations on about 60 million acres of land in Montana earned $4.2 billion in revenue. Agriculture is such a large Montana industry that any increase in efficiency from more accurate weather and soil moisture information can translate into millions of dollars in statewide savings each year.
The monitoring stations are solar powered and transmit data to the Montana Climate Office server via secure cellular communication. The data collected at each station includes wind speed, wind direction, relative humidity, air temperature, rainfall, solar radiation, vegetation greenness and soil moisture and temperature at 4-inch, 8-inch, 20-inch and 36-inch soil depths.
The climate office stores and analyzes the data at UM, but users can access, monitor and download information at any time online at http://climate.umt.edu/mesonet. Data is shown in graphs and maps and can be summarized and viewed by county, watershed or ownership unit.
The office also recently assumed leadership of the Montana Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS). Since Jan. 1, 143 volunteers have reported rain and snowfall amounts across the state. These citizen-scientists provide essential data about precipitation between National Weather Service sites and other weather networks.
Several of the stations were installed in collaboration with Montana State University’s Agricultural Experiment Stations, and 16 new stations will be installed this summer in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
This soil-climate network, the first in the state, was funded in part by the Montana Research and Economic Development Initiative and continues to be supported by the Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station, a state-funded research agency at UM’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation.