The Florida Automated Weather Network is now bigger than ever, with three new sites added to the state’s system.

Stations joining the network are in Citrus, Okeechobee and Palm Beach counties, said Rick Lusher, manager of the system at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

That makes 41 stations now in the network, which was built in 1998 to give the state’s agricultural producers the most current weather information possible.

Growers rely on the network, particularly if freezes are in the forecast, Lusher said. Generally speaking, growers start planting in November or December, he said.

“Cold season is our big deal,” Lusher said. IFAS officials receive an exponential increase in calls during the cold growing season, which lasts from November or December to as late as March, he said.

The network was built after the National Weather Service discontinued special forecasts for agriculture in 1998, Lusher said. UF lobbied for weather stations to be built as close to their farms and ranches as possible, he said.

Using sensors, the network stations collect weather data that’s updated by IFAS every 15 minutes.

Network managers at IFAS take data assimilated by the machines and put it on a website for growers to use.