Iowa State University
News Index January 14, 2003

Weather Partnership

Unique group comes together to improve climatological services for Iowa.

Until very recently, weather data were taken by numerous public agencies and private firms throughout Iowa on a daily basis.

For the most part that information was not shared among the various agencies and firms.

That is until the Iowa Environmental Mesonet (IEM) was formed. That organization gathers, collects, disseminates and archives weather observations in Iowa.

The partnership between Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Transportation (IaDOT), KCCI-TV8 in Des Moines, and the National Weather Service (NWS) is unlike other mesonet projects across the country in that the IEM does not own or operate any of the automated stations.

"The IEM collects data from existing resources in the state," said Eugene Takle, professor of geological and atmospheric sciences and professor of agronomy. "The result is a low cost, high resolution mesonet (spatially and temporally dense set of observing stations) for use in a wide range of disciplines."

Takle also says there’s something else that makes IEM unique.

"I'm amazed at the collegiality of the organizations involved," he said. "Everybody has come to the table wanting to know how we could do this and how we can make it better."

So far so good for IEM. The group recently was given the prestigious NWA Larry R. Johnson Award by the National Weather Association for "development and implementation of a real-time data collection and dissemination, weather observing, network partnership to improve educational resources, warnings and climatological services for the citizens of Iowa."

The IEM is currently gathering information from eight permanent observing networks throughout Iowa. These networks include river gauges, cooperative observer programs, roadway weather information system, soil climate analysis and KCCI’s School Network (SNET).

The SNET draws data from small weather stations located in schools across the state at five-second intervals. The NWS on the other hand only has stations located at major state airports and records its weather data at much larger intervals.

"This type of information that SNET provides was very appealing to the National Weather Service," Takle said.

NWS wants data from all available sources, but does not have the resources to perform the quality control and archive functions for data coming from many different sources. That's where Iowa State and faculty members in the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences and the Department of Agronomy come in.

"We're acting as kind of a broker between a private firm and the government," Takle said. "The National Weather Service is delighted to have this detailed information from all around the state."

Takle cites a case last summer when a 92 mph wind gust briefly hit a small Iowa town.

"Since there was no airport nearby and the NWS radar was offline, this information would not have been available to NWS forecasters," he said.

IEM is coordinated by Daryl Herzmann, program assistant in the Department of Agronomy. While the program is based in the Department of Agronomy, Takle says faculty in the meteorology program within the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences have taken an active role.

"All of the meteorology faculty are using the data in their classes and in their research, and many students are using it for their senior research projects," he said. "It's getting very wide use in both the classroom and for research.

"This is a great example of a collaboration between federal, private and state organizations," Takle continued. "Everybody wins with the IEM. We all get better information, which is disseminated out to the public at no additional cost."