With the addition of 13 new monitoring stations, the Florida Automated Weather Network — also known as FAWN — now covers the state with 33 stations linked to University of Florida computers in Gainesville.

In addition to new monitoring stations, the network includes improved communications technology for collecting weather data and new computers to service the FAWN Web site.

The 13 new monitoring stations are located in Jay in Santa Rosa County, Marianna in Jackson County, Quinch in Gadsden County, Carrabelle in Franklin County, Monticello in Jefferson County, Live Oak in Suwannee County, Bronson in Levy County, MacClenny in Baker County, Balm in Hillsborough County, Kenansville in Osceola County, Sebring in Highlands County, Palmdale in Glades County and Belle Glade in Palm Beach County.

“Some of the new monitoring stations were made possible through the cooperation of other state agencies, including the Florida Division of Forestry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the UF Department of Agronomy,” said Larry Treadaway, who coordinates the network for UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “They recognize the value of information obtained from these monitoring stations and allowed FAWN to place stations on their properties.”

The improvements were financed with $125,000 from the Division of Emergency Management in the Florida Department of Community Affairs. The funds were allocated by Federal Emergency Management Agency, Treadaway said. The network enhancements were started in June 2002 and finished in March 2003.

The weather network was started by UF in 1997 after the National Weather Service discontinued forecasts for agriculture, he said. Until now, network coverage has been limited mainly to central Florida and south Florida.

“We have always needed a complete statewide network because regular forecasts for cities may be misleading to farmers located in cooler rural areas,” Treadaway said. “Heat trapped in concrete and asphalt can make cities 10 degrees warmer than farms in rural areas. When cold weather moves through the state, the difference can be devastating to citrus and other cold-sensitive crops.”

Treadaway, who is based at UF's Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, said growers and others interested in real-time weather data can access the system via telephone or the FAWN Web site. In addition to data, the system can give farmers reliable climate predictions three to six months in advance.

Each solar powered station collects weather data and transmits it to a computer in Gainesville every 15 minutes. The stations measure temperatures at two, six and 30 feet above ground, soil temperature, wind speed and direction, rainfall, relative humidity, barometric pressure, leaf wetness and solar radiation.

“With the approach of cooler temperatures this fall and winter, we invite everyone to visit the FAWN Web site to see current weather conditions as well as the unique and educational weather-data-graphing java applet,” Treadaway said. “Also available are daily, weekly and monthly data summaries, charts of chilling degree days and historical data.”

He said growers are looking at FAWN as a source of reliable information not only for cold protection, but also for weather-driven computer models in pest control, irrigation scheduling, fertilizer rates and other management programs.

“It's all part of the growing trend toward precision agriculture,” Treadaway said.

John Jackson, UF Lake County Extension agent in Tavares, Fla., works with Treadaway on the project, said FAWN provides growers with critical information on when it's safe to turn off their irrigation systems used for freeze protection.

“Most growers leave their protective irrigation systems on too long, wasting up to one billion gallons of water and $500,000 in energy costs per hour,” Jackson said. “Over the last three years, we estimate FAWN has helped citrus, strawberry, fern, vegetable and ornamental growers save 20 billion gallons of water and $10 million in cold protection costs. Many growers also use FAWN data to determine when to start their irrigation systems, and these savings probably match the shut-off values.”

Another component of the FAWN Web site, Climate Predictions, provides information on weather trends over the next three to six months from the Florida Consortium for Climate Prediction Applications. The consortium includes scientists at UF, Florida State University and the University of Miami.

Weather data from the network is available at 352-846-3100 or 866-754-5732 and the FAWN Web site is http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu