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Weather History, Trends Discussed At Science, Technology Event

April 1, 2014
by Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

To most of us, the weather is something you either don't give a lot of thought to it, or else you just complain about it. But for the farmer, the weather is a crucial factor in his or her job of feeding the world.

The importance of weather, not only the current weather conditions, but the history and trends of weather were the topic of discussion Thursday at the Ag Science and Technology Series at Iowa Lakes Community College. Featured speakers were Harry Hilliker, State Climatologist, and Josh Senechal, a meterologist for Freese-Notis Weather Services.

Hilliker has worked for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship for 32 years, the last 25 as the State Climatologist. In that capacity, Hilliker has become the curator, if you will, of Iowa's weather history.

Article Photos

HISTORY?IS?IMPORTANT - Iowa State Climatologist Harry Hilliker explained why the history of weather is important in agriculture at Thursday’s Age Science and Technology Series at Iowa Lakes Community College. -- Dan Voigt photo

"The first recorded weather observations in the state of Iowa date back to January 1, 1821, and were taken at Fort Atkinson, which was near Council Bluffs, by John Gale, a Surgeon with R Regiment of the United States Army," Hilliker explained. "For the record, on that day, the temperature at 7 a.m. was +3 degrees; at 2 p.m it was +18 degrees and at 9 p.m. it was +10 degrees. The winds were northwesterly and the skies were clear."

Through the records of Iowa's weather over the years, Hilliker explained that trends can be developed to give agricultural producers information they need to plan their growin operations each year.

"For instance, the average date of the first 32-degree temperature is October 3,"?Hilliker said. "Knowing that, a producer can plan what varieties of corn they will plant."

In examining records, Hilliker says the average snowfall amont in the state is actually trending upwards, with an average snowfall total over the state of 31.3" in the winter.

Along with snowfall, Hilliker also keeps track of subsoil moisture levels, and according to the latest figures, 20 percent of the state is considered very short for subsoil moisture, while 35 percent is classified as short, including Palo Alto County. 44 percent of the state has adequate subsoil moisture and only one percent, in northeast Iowa, has a surplus of subsoil moisture at this time.

"In 2012, at this time of year, over 60 percent of the state was classified as being very short of subsoil moisture,"?Hilliker noted.

Other facts Hilliker has noted include the period of June, July and August as the months when the heaviest periods of rain will fall in the state, while the peak times of day for those heavy rains usally are between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Senechal, a New Hampshire native, is involved in day-to-day forecasting for Freese-Notis, a private weather forecasting firm that also provides additional forecasting for the agricultural industry as a whole.

"Weather and climate are huge impacts on agriculture," Senechal noted. "We find that there are changes going on in Iowa's climate due to changing global conditions."

Among the changes, Senechal noted that the state is seeing longer frost-free periods, along with the fact that growing degree days have not declined.

While trends have shown a small decline in summer time temperatures, the reason is due to increases in water vapor in the atmosphere, which in tun creates more clouds, Senechal explained. "More clouds means less solar radiation and heat."

Senechal also noted that wind speed has decreased over the past 30 years, due to movement of the Jet Stream, which plays a huge effect on weather patterns.

"Weather truly impacts agriculture. Elevated night-time temperatures lower the weight of your grain, can create more opportunity for toxins in the grain, and can affect drying," Senehcal said.

"I feel we will get rid of the drought conditions by the end of the summer,"?Senechal concluded, "Wiil it be timely enough? That remains to be seen."



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