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Weather Data Library at Kansas State University has records dating to 1850.
MANHATTAN, Kan. – From Tribune to Ottawa and Colby to Parsons, in 40 locations around Kansas delicate weather sensors are silently observing wind speed, air temperature, precipitation and more. The data are being collected by weather stations that feed it to the Weather Data Library at Kansas State University, where they are archived and available to the public.
Now, K-State is boosting its resources devoted to gathering and recording climate information with an eye toward establishing more weather stations around the state, increasing climate-related research, even greater outreach and providing more usable, accessible information for Kansans and others.
“We have added several positions, including a tenure-track faculty member, a weather data library manager, and a programmer,” said Gary Pierzynski, head of K-State’s agronomy department where the library is based.
In 2013, Xiaomao Lin joined the Weather Data Library team as an assistant professor and state climatologist and Chip Redmond started as the WDL manager. Brian Petersen came on board as the library’s programmer.
The three new positions bring the WDL team to five and build on the work of Mary Knapp, assistant state climatologist, and Fred Caldwell, weather monitoring specialist. Knapp now focuses on data requests that come into the library and on public outreach and Caldwell continues his work in maintaining the weather station system.
Weather information is particularly important in a state like Kansas, where conditions can quickly go from fair to ferocious and where agriculture is valued at $35 billion, making it the largest economic driver in the state. It accounts for 25 percent of the state’s economy, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
“Climate issues are critical to Kansas and we needed to do a better job of collecting and using our weather data,” Pierzynski said. “Also, weather data is important in efficient irrigation and we need to make sure we are using our water as efficiently as possible.”
The changes to Kansas' official repository of weather and climate information paved the way for the Weather Data Library's recent designation as the Kansas Climate Center, making it an American Association of State Climatologists Recognized Climate Office.
“Our goal is to promote understanding of climate sciences in agriculture, natural resources and environmental areas and to provide online agricultural weather information and ag-climate products for decision-makers in order to improve the economic efficiency and sustainability of Kansas,” Lin said. He worked in the areas of climate change and applied climate sciences for eight years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln prior to coming to K-State.
Enhancing the system
Work has already begun on the website, with the addition of Kansas Mesonet. That’s where the public can go online to learn wind speed, temperature and the precipitation at many of the WDL’s weather stations across the state.
In addition to near real-time conditions, Redmond said the Weather Data Library has historical weather records dating to 1850.
Currently, the WDL has two types of weather stations – 3-meter towers, which take fewer weather variables, and mesonet towers (9-meter), which include more weather sensors including wind speed and direction.
“We’re working to standardize the weather station’s configuration, with a goal of upgrading all of them to mesonet,” Redmond said. The WDL gets requests for information well beyond agricultural purposes, he added. In an investigation regarding a recent fatal accident, for example, the Kansas Highway Patrol asked the WDL about weather conditions on a specific date, time (within 15 minutes) and location.
The weather conditions that the stations are monitoring sometimes takes a toll on the equipment, so the team is also building a supply of backup instruments in order to repair or replace damaged equipment as quickly as possible. That way, the stream of data over the months and years is consistent and allows accurate comparisons, day by day, year by year.
“We’re looking to expand services, including adding value-added products on the website,” Redmond said.
Working with collaborators
The WDL collaborates with the Kansas Water Office, Big Bend Groundwater Management District, the Equus Beds Groundwater Management District, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Climate Analysis Network. The data captured by the library is relayed to the National Weather Service and Kansas Agricultural Statistics.
In partnership with Highland Community College, a new station will soon be online in Hiawatha, Redmond said, and another has been installed at the Rock Springs 4-H Center near Junction City. Those are the kinds of collaborations that the WDL team wants to build in the near future as they increase the number of weather stations across Kansas.
“We’re looking for more collaborators, public or private,” Redmond said. “We want these stations to be more representative of the area around them.”
In addition to revamping the WDL website, increasing the number of weather stations and using weather information in additional ways, such as research, future plans call for increased visibility for the WDL, including the use of social media, Pierzynski said.
Lin said the WDL staff welcomes visitors to the Kansas Climate Center and WDL located at 1004 Throckmorton Hall on K-State’s campus.