More accurate weather forecasting helps agriculture

December 12, 2019
Editorials

Originally Published by High Plains Journal

Growing up on our family’s farm, one thing was for sure: at 12:20 p.m., over lunch, and at about 10:20 p.m., over a milkshake, we’d all quietly sit in front of the television watching the weather. Or, if my dad, siblings and I were out on adventure in his 1966 Ford truck, we’d be listening to Cecil Carrier on KDFI radio to make sure we wouldn’t get caught off-guard by a late afternoon Kansas thunderstorm. Now, as a Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, I help to oversee the National Weather Service, which is responsible for providing timely and accurate weather forecasts for the general public.

This past spring brought some of the worst flooding seen in years for Kansas. In addition to the late spring snow in Minnesota and the Dakotas, rapid melt coupled with increased rainfall inundated farming communities as they headed into planting season. Producers were left with oversaturated fields, facing unfriendly growing conditions and uncertainty on when they’d be able to plant their crops. More accurate forecasts could have helped farmers better plan for the conditions they would have faced, and in some cases saved thousands of dollars in lost seed, fertilizer, stored crops, and labor cots.

Over the past decade, the U.S. has slowly fallen behind other countries in its ability to timely and accurately predict storms and weather events. In 2012, the path of Hurricane Sandy was correctly predicted by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts nearly eight days ahead of it hitting the U.S. east coast. That path was confirmed by the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, and National Hurricane center almost four days later.

The record-setting destruction of Hurricane Sandy raised concerns about the United States’ weather forecasting ability and methods, and as a result, Congress recognized that improving weather data, modeling, computing and forecasting needed to be a priority. In 2017, President Trump signed the Weather Researching and Forecasting Innovation Act, directed NOAA to take additional steps toward acquiring and integrating commercial data into weather forecasting models. The following year, Congress directed NOAA to create the Earth Prediction Innovation Center, (EPIC) which shifted weather forecasting techniques to focus on a community forecast model.

EPIC has allowed the federal government to crowdsource research and data from the private sector and research institutions. The United States is home to some of the best minds and most advanced labs, so providing a way for those communities to contribute to weather modeling and prediction can better enhance American weather forecasting abilities.

For farmers and ranchers, especially here in Kansas, accurate and timely weather forecasts are essential to their long-term success. Weather impacts what a farmer might plant and when, as well as how they might tend to those crops over the course of a growing season. Weather impacts everything from pest and disease control to field irrigation and harvest decisions. Similarly, rural communities depend on accurate weather forecasts to prepare for severe weather.

It’s clear that the federal government should be doing more in the area of accurate and timely forecasting, and public-private partnerships are a great way to ensure that the data used for weather modeling and prediction is as accurate as possible. We will never be able to control Mother Nature but having the ability to better predict and and plan for her next move can provide unmeasured benefits to agriculture and all aspects of our economy.

—U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-KS, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

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