Keeping Nebraska’s weather Mesonet online

6 News WOWT Live at 10
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 10:57 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - At a time when agriculture and other industries in Nebraska are constantly battling new climate challenges, one of the key tools to understanding our weather is facing financial shortfalls.

The Mesonet is at risk, so what is it and why should we care?

Nebraska’s Mesonet is a data-collecting network at dozens of sites across the state processes dozens of readings at stations made up of above and below ground devices to measure temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, barometric pressure as well as soil temperature and moisture levels.

“When you get a weather forecast on your phone, then this data helps to feed into those models used to produce a forecast,” Nebraska’s state climatologist Martha Durr said earlier this year. While being interviewed for the 6News series addressing climate change in Nebraska, she walked us through the elements of the Mesonet weather station on campus at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and pointed out the value the resource holds for many. “Natural Resource Districts use this data, Department of Natural Resources, flood risks, drought monitoring, irrigation management, water management, the list kind of goes on and on.”

6News First Alert Chief Meteorologist Rusty Lord relies on the data, especially from remote points, to bring focus to his forecasts.

“It’ll tell us a lot of things that maybe other reporting points won’t and it’ll fill in some of the gaps between some of the reporting points,” he said. “These are showing us our ground temperatures are still above freezing so with an event say like Thursday, where we could have a little freezing rain, one of the factors that plays into it is how warm is the ground when this happens because that could help melt it off a little bit, too.”

Durr finds herself addressing questions of funding to keep the Mesonet running. Since learning that some public entities like the Department of Natural Resources may not continue their support in the coming fiscal year, Durr said she and others have “engaged with several agricultural groups in regard to user awareness and support.”

The Nebraska Mesonet decided to shut seven stations in a cost-cutting measure over the past several months. But with some bridge funding coming from UNL, Durr said plans to shut down as many as ten more stations by the end of 2022 are on hold.

To a meteorologist like Lord, losing this data would have repercussions for Nebraskans.

“A map I use quite a bit is the average four inches soil temperature,” he said. “I can tell you a lot, whether or not the roads are gonna be warm enough to avoid icing and stuff like that... This is vital information for farmers, vital information for meteorologists and the fewer spots we have on the map that’s less data we’re gonna have and that’ll impact records for years to come.”