Good Fruit Grower

August 2014

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Regional climate center tries to elevate the value of weather forecasts. by Richard Lehnert Y our local TV weather person gives some good information—like how to dress your kids today as they wait for the school bus. But when it comes to serious stuff—how weather will, or did, affect the blossoms in your fruit orchard, not so much. Fruit growers hear the forecasts, and it's pretty well up to them to figure out what they mean. Should they turn on the irrigation, fire up the smudge pots, or do nothing? The Midwestern Regional Climate Center is work- ing on a new project called the Vegetation Impact Pro- gram that people there think will add depth to weather information. As the name suggests, for growers the most important aspect of weather is its impact on vegetation, and that of course varies by the stage of the vegetation's development. Beth Hall is director of the Midwestern Regional Cli- mate Center. Based at the University of Illinois, it is one of six regional climate centers, several of which are work- ing on special projects that might one day be national in scope. So, while it was originally developed for the nine states in the Midwest, where fruit and specialty vegetable crops are grown, it has since expanded to cover the 48 contigu- ous states. And anybody anywhere can participate online. The general idea, Hall said, is to make the program interactive for a select group of subscribers, a group that would include weather experts at the National Weather Service who make the forecasts, growers who know the conditions on the ground, and specialists at universities and extension services who can help interpret data. In this collaboration, the weather experts—state climatologists and weather forecasters—would predict a freeze, for example; growers and other "vegetation experts" would report the stage of development of a crop or crops; and the extension specialists would explain what temperatures do to vegetation at a particular stage of development. From this combined information, the National Weather Service will determine whether or not to issue a special weather alert such as a frost advisory or freeze warning. "Anyone interested in participating in this proj- ect, either as a forecaster or someone who can provide information on the current state of local vegetation, is welcome to subscribe to the project," Hall said. Missing piece The missing piece has been the information on the current state of local vegetation. "We need a better way of knowing the susceptibility of plants," Hall said. "National Weather Service forecasters tell us they'd like to hear from producers so they can be more sensitive to their needs." Those who understand their local vegetation's current susceptibility to freezing temperatures need to advise weather forecasters whether or not to issue "headlines" 44 AUGUST 2014 Good Fruit Grower Vegetation IMPACT Program SIX CLIMATE CENTERS serve the country T he Midwestern Regional Climate Center is one of six in the country. Funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin- istration, each center works to develop climate resources to address the concerns of their region. The MRCC is located at the University of Illi- nois within the Illinois State Water Survey of the Prairie Research Institute in Champaign, Illinois. The Northeast Regional Climate Center is located at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The Western Regional Climate Center is located at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, and serves 11 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. The High Plains Regional Climate Center is located at the Univesity of Nebraska at Lincoln. The Southern Regional Climate Center is located at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The Southeast Regional Climate Center is located at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. —R. Lehnert

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