By Ross Markman
In yet another effort to secure disaster relief, the Hill County Commission has approved the installation of up to five weather stations at farms and ranches throughout the county.
Hill County is one of 29 counties in Montana that will install the stations, which will gather data on things like rainfall, wind, heat and ground moisture. The commissioners are hopeful the results will prove to the federal government that disaster payments are needed by producers.
Other efforts to secure government relief for farmers and ranchers include a survey conducted by the county commissions in Hill, Liberty and Chouteau counties asking local producers and businesses how they've been affected by the four-year drought afflicting north-central Montana.
"One of the most salient reasons we're doing this is by getting this information, they can determine much more closely if we're in a drought condition," Hill County Commission Chairman Pat Conway said. "The key will be if the feds will accept this information."
The approximately 5-foot-tall, wireless stations will be placed on farms and ranches that are connected to the Internet. In Hill County, the Joey Dusek Ranch north of Havre will be the first site for a weather station.
"Individually, it's probably limited. The advantage is the overall look across the state," Conway said. "In Montana, for instance, there can be a more exact gathering of information in relationship to weather conditions."
The stations, manufactured by California-based Davis Instruments, will cost the county about $1,800 each. Hill County has budgeted for a maximum of five, according to Commissioner Doug Kaercher.
"If one is close to a county border, we might share the cost with that county," Kaercher said.
Blaine, Liberty and Chouteau counties also are putting up weather stations.
One station, Kaercher added, will likely be placed near an existing U.S. weather station in Hill County in order to compare data. About eight or nine U.S. stations are scattered throughout Hill County, mostly along Highway 2.
"We'll take a look at where U.S. weather stations are already located, and we'll have a coordinated effort," Conway said.
The stations, which can also determine barometric pressure, dew point, and humidity, will include three probes for collecting data. The U.S. stations only measure rainfall, said Commissioner Kathy Bessette, who is hopeful the reward will be more federal disaster relief.
"You can get an inch of rainfall and it can be 100 degrees out, and the wind is blowing and it doesn't do much," Bessette said. "This will give us a much clearer and more accurate picture of conditions in the state."
The Hill County Commission will attend an intercounty commissioners meeting in Chinook on April 15, where they expect to determine when the first station will be installed.
"If we can prove to the feds quicker, we can access drought assistance quicker," Kaercher said.