The year was 1989, North Dakotans were celebrating the centennial anniversary of statehood and at the same time suffering through the worst drought recorded in the state since the 1930s. Precipitation and other weather parameters were in high demand, yet, getting weather data quickly was generally limited to the hourly reports from the Fargo, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Jamestown, Bismarck, Minot, Williston and Dickinson airports. There were dozens of cooperative observers sending in their reports on a monthly basis, but real time data was difficult to obtain.
It was with this great need for timely and reliable weather data that Dr. John Enz, Emeritus Professor in Soil Science at North Dakota State University (NDSU), who was serving as the State Climatologist for North Dakota at the time, set up six automated weather stations. These stations were set up to provide crucial weather data to enhance crop management in North Dakota. The network, which came to be known as the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network (NDAWN), gradually grew as the benefits of these weather stations spread through the agricultural community.
A milestone in the importance of these data occurred during the 1993 and 1994 growing seasons when data from the NDAWN network was credited with helping to save the potato crop both of those years. It was the Potato Late Blight Model, developed by the Plant Pathology Department at NDSU that integrated NDAWN data that was crucial in helping farmers control the disease during those growing seasons. That same model has been used every year since to assist potato growers in the protection of their crop from that potentially devastating disease.
Other agricultural weather tools developed through the years include projections for fusarium head blight infections. According to Dr. Marcia McMullen, Emeritus Professor in Plant Pathology at NDSU, in years where risk of fusarium were high, NDAWN data allows producers to respond by timely use of fungicides for management that result in approximately $26 million return/year to North Dakota producers. In addition, American Crystal Sugar Company has identified $78 million net benefit by increasing control of root maggot flies, cercospora and rhizoctonia in sugar beets using data based on NDAWN output. Many other tools are available at the NDAWN web site, plus research is ongoing that will hopefully provide improvement to not only current agricultural weather applications, but also, the development of additional tools that will enhance the usefulness of the network.
NDAWN has come a long way in the 25 years since those six original weather stations. The network has now grown to 75 stations with additional stations scheduled to be added before the end of this year. With advances in technology, the data provided by the network can now be seen in near real time on the NDAWN webpage at http://www.ndsu.edu/ndawn. This allows anyone with internet access, either via a computer, tablet or smartphone, access to crucial statewide localized weather information no matter their location. Besides current, nearly live, weather information, all NDAWN data has been archived since 1990 and is available on the website for analysis and research.
As we celebrate our 25th anniversary providing vital weather information, we owe a great deal of thanks to North Dakota County Agents, NDSU Extension, and other cooperators for their voluntary contributions and assistance in keeping the stations operating in our harsh climate. We look forward to the next 25 years of providing some of the best, high resolution, weather data available anywhere in the world.Daryl Ritchison Assistant State Climatologist