Wisconsin’s wild weather has been on full display in 2023 with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, wildfire smoke, heavy precipitation and extreme drought. Weather can have an outsized impact on daily lives and the economy, but a team at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is making it easier than ever to access local weather data and make informed decisions.
Throughout the spring and summer, a team of University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers has been transitioning 14 weather stations across Wisconsin from Michigan State’s Enviroweather program to a new Wisconsin-based program – called Wisconet. In the coming months, Wisconet will be installing new stations in Dane, Sauk, Jackson and Clark counties as part of the planned expansion to 90 weather stations, including at least one station in every county of the state.
“A common phrase is, ‘If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.’ Well, we’ll know how the weather changes because Wisconet stations are providing live weather data every five minutes to support local meteorologists, researchers, farmers and growers, and the people of Wisconsin,” says Chris Vagasky, research program manager for Wisconet.
Each Wisconet station will report temperature and relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, liquid precipitation, solar radiation, leaf wetness, and soil moisture and temperature measurements. These data are critical to making appropriate decisions, whether it’s to issue a life-saving warning, make better farming decisions or change outdoor plans. Data is available for viewing at the Wisconet website: wisconet.wisc.edu.
Wisconet is supported by a $2.3 million grant from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Wisconsin Rural Partnership initiative, which is part of a broader $28 million USDA-funded Institute for Rural Partnerships. The institute aims to promote equitable, resilient, and prosperous food and agricultural systems and expanded opportunities for rural community development. Additionally, Wisconet also received $1 million in financial support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a non-profit technology transfer organization that serves UW–Madison.
“We are continually developing and updating our data and tools online,” Vagasky says. “Plant growth and pest and disease models, heat models like the wet bulb globe temperature, and precipitation statistics are all things we have in mind to help Wisconsinites respond better to our ever-changing weather.”
Wisconsin saw such changes this spring. After a record wet January – April, the state experienced the third-driest May-June in the last 129 years. This led to rapid development of drought across the state. Lack of precipitation during the growing season creates challenges for farmers and growers, but new soil moisture measurements from Wisconet will improve irrigation decisions and better inform drought monitoring.
“Wisconet will measure soil moisture at five depths from just two inches below the surface all the way to 40 inches below ground,” explains Vagasky. “This added soil moisture data will let growers know how much water is available to their plants and help researchers understand how quickly the ground is responding to increases or decreases in precipitation, improving our awareness of short- and long-term droughts.”
The Wisconet team continues to identify additional locations, develop novel tools and models for the website, and field new stations. They aim to install 75 new stations by 2026. Contact Chris Vagasky at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in hosting a station on your property.
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Contact: Chris Vagasky, email@example.com