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Averaged Rainfall Values Mean Very Little – for Jul. 23, 2010

The decline of Environment Canada weather stations in recent years has meant much less useful rainfall and weather information for specific districts. As I make the annual soil moisture map as of freeze-up each year it is easy to get maps of total rainfall, etc., but they are made up of too few data points and hence are unreliable. The best data I have available is the Saskatchewan Agriculture Weekly Crop Report network that has hundreds of farmers with rain gauges sending in weekly reports. The feds will not use that data for some strange reason.

As an example of how misleading weather reporting can be based on limited data, the June 10 edition of theSaskatoon Star Phoenixhad a headline stating: “Wacky spring weather is warmest on record in Canada.” What planet do they live on? It certainly does not include the Canadian Prairies.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

Beyond limited data points, up-to- date data on rainfall as it occurs is also hard to come by. We can access rain accumulation a day or two after the fact from Environment Canada websites, but not as it happens and with no value of intensity.

Enter www.weatherfarm.com. For

the past couple of years our good old Canadian Wheat Board has been working to rectify some of the deficiencies in weather data for farmers and those who serve farmers. They have partnered with WeatherBug in the U. S. and have set up a large network (700 points and counting) of on-farm/dealership, etc., weather stations that provide up-to-the-minute data on temperature, wind velocity and direction and daily rainfall accumulation updated every 15 minutes. It is also easy to go back and obtain rainfall data for the past few days, weeks or months. There is also a forecasting service, but I have had too little experience with it to compare with Environment Canada or the Weather Network.

But in this past monsoon non-seeding season www.weatherfarm.com has been my constant companion. The coverage of stations is not uniform and some areas are still short on sites, but for most agricultural areas we can get rain and other data for several locations. With the new weatherfarm site we can now get much better data on rain as well as other weather parameters.

I have never been able to convince Ottawa bureaucrats that the only way to get good soil moisture data is to have a very dense network of reliable rain gauges. Rain falls where it falls and cannot be modelled or estimated by averaging the three closest sites, Mr. Bureaucrats.

HOW TO USE WEATHERFARM

To start using the site just go to www.weatherfam.com. There is a brief registration procedure that does not ask for a lot, and then you’re in business. My gauge on these things is me — if this old fossil can use it then the young pups will have no trouble.

When you bring up the site and go to your area it will pick a nearby station and you see the up-to- the-minute temperature, wind and rain accumulation and a map that shows nearby stations. The blue dots are weatherfarm sites and pink dots are Environment Canada sites. A word of caution: You won’t find current rain record for that day at the pink dots.

ADDED FEATURES

There are many features of the weatherfarm site that I have yet to master, but it is easy to click on the bar below the current data for a site and bring up a map that shows the rain (or temp, etc.) for a number of sites in your area. Be careful with 0.00 rain values as they may be Environment Canada sites that do not record every 15 minutes as does weatherfarm.

The CWB staff and WeatherBug are working on a variety of products that will be useful to farmers, such as heat unit maps, and many more that farmers and agronomists can use.

The big quality control factor that is present with weatherfarm is the individual farmers and dealers that are watching the data on their screens. If garbage is showing up they will soon sound an alert and the problem will be fixed. It seems that automatic Environment Canada stations can generate garbage for weeks before someone notices a problem –and then the answer is to generate data for a station by averaging “nearby” stations that may not be that nearby.

For my money, if it takes a penny or two per bushel of the wheat I sell to help keep www.weatherfarm.com going I am all for it.

J.L.(Les)Henryisaformerprofessorandextension specialistattheUniversityofSaskatchewan.He farmsatDundurn,Sask.

———

I have never been able to convince Ottawa bureaucrats that the only way to

get good soil moisture data is to have a very dense network of reliable rain gauges

About the author

Columnist

Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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