During the late nineteenth through the late twentieth century, thermometers, rain gauges, hygrothermographs, and barometers were standard hardware used by Washington growers. However, the invention of the transistor and integrated circuit and their rapid development for use in national defense and the "moon race" changed everything. The first microcomputer-based weather monitoring hardware appeared in the mid-1970s and revolutionized agrometeorology. Monitoring hardware evolved in parallel with other microcomputer technology, but it was the concurrent development of the data logger, personal computer, and radio frequency (RF) and telephone modems that brought real-time weather data directly into the farmer’s office or home.
The Washington State University Public Agriculture Weather System (PAWS), established in 1987, used these developing technologies. It was one of the first regional agricultural weather monitoring networks in the world. The system started with 17 automated remote weather stations. More than 40 more were added later through private donations. First confined to the Yakima Valley and Lower Columbia Basin, the system later expanded into western and north central Washington and functioned dependably until hardware obsolescence began to take its toll in the late 1990s, at about the time the WSU Center for Precision Agricultural Systems was established under the direction of Dr. Fran Pierce. Pierce assumed the leadership role for PAWS and then (using a seed grant from the American Farmland Trust) established AgWeatherNet as an eventual replacement for PAWS. His team developed the AWN100, an economical and robust replacement for the aging data loggers that comprised the PAWS system. The Center for Precision Agricultural Systems eventually developed the AWN200 data logger that currently comprises a sizeable component of the AgWeatherNet network.
Once operated on a shoestring budget, AgWeatherNet in 2005 received a one-time, $300,000 legislative appropriation for network upgrade and expansion and in 2006 received a second appropriation of $800,000 annually for network operation and maintenance. These legislative contributions have enabled the organization to hire additional staff to expand the network into underserved regions, vastly improve maintenance response times, and facilitate outreach efforts and the development of value-added products derived from weather data. Now comprising the AgWeatherNet team are director and plant pathologist Gary Grove, project operations manager Robert Krebs, systems analyst/programmer Chun Fang, technical coordinators Will Corsi and Evan Zumini, and support personnel Lynne Hartz, Linda Fleming, and Rebecca Bose. There are plans to hire an agrometeorologist and a third technical coordinator in the near future. Eventually, technical coordinators will be stationed in Prosser, Mount Vernon, and Wenatchee.
The 2005 legislative appropriation was granted for upgrading PAWS hardware and to roughly double the scope of agricultural weather monitoring in the state. All of the original PAWS hardware has since been replaced. The underserved regions of the tree fruit industry were identified as high-priority expansion areas, and development is proceeding most rapidly there. Further expansion is planned for the Palouse and western Washington. Expansion into these new areas poses telemetry challenges and opportunities to experiment with different technologies. For example, we are experimenting with satellite telemetry in order to overcome the "RF-mean" topography of the Palouse. We are also investigating cellular telemetry as a possible replacement for UHF radio telemetry in western Washington and the Yakima Valley.
The new AgWeatherNet home on the Web (see Welcome to AWN, facing page) is accessible at http://www.weather.wsu.edu or http://weather.wsu.edu. A username and password can be obtained on-line. Although older PAWS (http://paws. prosser.wsu.edu) and AgWeatherNet (http://agweather net.prosser.wsu.edu) sites will be maintained during a transition period, the new site will eventually replace the old sites. The new site is focused primarily on the timely and dependable distribution of basic meteorological data in near real-time and basic meteorological models. All of the functionality for accessing and downloading raw data that made the PAWS site so valuable is retained in the new site. For the graphically inclined, the most obvious improvements incorporated into the new site are the Google, terrain, and contour maps of current and past observations.
Value-added products available on the new site include: wind rose, evapotranspiration, heat index, wind chill, individual and multiple degree-days, and precipitation summaries. Although some basic disease models remain available on the main site, AgWeatherNet data also powers models available on commodity-specific Web sites. For example, insect and disease models pertaining to tree fruit and grapes will available on the WSU-TFREC IPM Decision Aids and WSU Fruit Pathology sites on the Web. Basic versions of cherry and grape powdery mildew models will remain on the AgWeatherNet site until the versions presented on crop-specific sites are through beta testing and ready for public use. The updated grape powdery mildew model will be available for beta testing in mid-April. The output will be presented for specific user-selected sites and regionally. Information on primary and secondary infection, management recommendations, information on disease biology, fungicide recommendations, fungicide efficacy information and data, and fungicide labels will be accessible from both the site and regional pages. The regional page will present current powdery mildew pressure across wine country.
The AgWeatherNet staff is using Adobe Presenter (formerly Macromedia Breeze) to develop online training in the use of the AWN Web site. Adobe Flash (a free software application/plug-in available at http://www. adobe.com) is the only software required on client computers. Many Internet browsers now include the plug-in.Presenter permits the inclusion of audio and video in PowerPoint presentations and converts them to platform-independent .swf (Flash) files.
At the time of writing, on-line Flash tutorials are available for obtaining an AgWeatherNet account, accessing raw weather data, and interpreting powdery mildew models for cherry and grapes. Tutorials will be available in subject areas on the AgWeatherNet site and also presented (by subject area) in a more formal on-line classroom environment.