Jones explains weather forecast tools for farming and ranching
Riverton – Radio, television, internet and now social media are all venues where the public can receive their weather updates and forecasts about temperature, precipitation and wind.
Chris Jones from the National Weather Service (NWS), a component of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), explained weather forecast tools for farmers and ranchers at the Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days on Feb. 12 in Riverton.
The Western and Central Wyoming NWS office is located in Riverton and covers 11 counties in Wyoming through the use of their own weather model and radar.
“What we cover is 120 to 140 miles out from that radar,” said Chris Jones, Warning Coordination meteorologist.
“Most of the offices around the National Weather Service have about 20,000 to 25,000 square miles,” said Jones. “We cover more than twice that size and a lot of complex terrain.”
The NWS is open 24 hours a day and has a staff of 23 people, with 17 meteorologists.
The NWS makes their forecasts available are on their website, Facebook page, Twitter or by phone. They will be glad to answer any questions.
Jones commented that the public is free to call the NWS on any issue, whether they wanted to cut their hay and wonder how many dry days they would have or if they should cover up their tomatoes due to a frost moving in.
“Online viewers can only see what we are thinking, but they don’t necessarily see what we feel,” replied Jones.
Variety of sources
“We try to produce our weather in as many different ways as we can,” said Jones. “On top of that, we are updating our 30 to 36 hour forecast every three hours to show hour by hour intervals.”
Viewers of the NWS website can click on any town or area and see what the temperature and weather is doing there. The website also offers links about climate and webcams for highway and interstate conditions.
“We try to demarcate between our forecast zones because it’s such a stark difference,” described Jones. “We really do try and put that level of effort into the public getting as accurate information as we can.”
Jones added, “The advantage of most of these weather services is that we are in these communities, and we gain some expertise in microclimates.”
“People can also use our weather on their smartphones or tablets and iPads at mobile.weather.gov,” said Jones.
In an emergency situation, the mobile app works well to get information out as quickly as possible.
“We try and work with emergency management and other agencies,” explained Jones. “We want to be sharing each other’s emergency information.”
Connection to the public
Jones described the use of social media through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been very beneficial with the NWS connection to the public.
Not only can they post information about weather, but the public can interact with the NWS by posting pictures or commenting about the weather from their backyards.
“Social media has increased our user connectivity dramatically,” replied Jones. “It’s a way where people can interact with us, and we’ve seen our interaction with the public go way up.”
Hazardous weather radios are another alternative for the public to get the NWS information.
“It’s basically a smoke alarm for weather,” said Jones.
The radios range in cost from $30 to $40, and they sit in alert mode until a report is made about a severe thunderstorm, fire, flood or other hazardous event occurring.
Listeners can also push the weather button at any time to receive a forecast.
Tracking and predictions
“Keeping track of temperatures is one of the easiest elements for us to track. The computer takes in a bunch of input points, and then it interpolates between locations and compares with what we have forecasted,” he said.
Jones explained that the NWS compares against 60 to 70 weather models to make a forecast for two to three days, but making a forecast for precipitation is more difficult to determine.
“Three to five days is as best as we can hope for with our forecasts,” said Jones. “Seven to eight days out it might be tough for people to believe.”
Wind is another important element to forecast, and Jones specified wind forecasting is especially important to look at when individuals want to burn their ditches.
“We have really tried to make a push about spring burning to give us a call beforehand,” said Jones. “We’re not going to tell producers to burn or not, but we’ll at least be able to give some information about what the wind is doing.”
Jones also advised that burning in the morning is better than burning at night.
In an event where the NWS loses power, a backup generator will be initiated, and if that option fails, the NWS’ sister office in Cheyenne will take over office communications.
“In this cell phone and wireless internet world, we are able to stay in contact with Cheyenne,” said Jones. “In a long-term scenario, people from the NWS office would temporarily move their operations to Cheyenne.”