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New weather stations aim to aid producers


A new weather reading system could ultimately affect the amount of disaster relief area agricultural producers receive, Hill county officials have said.

Five new weather stations will be set up at strategic locations across Hill County by early June, County Commission Chairman Pat Conway said last week. The stations are part of a statewide effort to improve the quality and coverage of weather information gathering systems, he added.

Hill, Blaine, Liberty, Toole, Cascade, Chouteau and Fergus counties are part of the regional effort to install the equipment, Conway said.

The stations in Hill County will be equipped with special probes to measure precipitation, subsoil moisture, air and soil temperature, and wind velocity. The information, which can be collected at very short intervals, will be sent via wireless connection to a centralized gathering position, Conway said.

"The idea is to get a better reading on weather conditions in Montana," Conway said. "We're simply expanding the existing system."

The data collected by the stations will be used to assess drought conditions in this area. Receiving the most accurate weather information is essential to a region that has suffered five years of drought, Conway said.

The information used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine disaster relief comes from pre-existing stations operated by the National Weather Service. The stations are arranged in a pattern that mirrors a common storm route, Commissioner Doug Kaercher said Monday.

The result is that the data received by the stations does not necessarily reflect weather conditions for the entire county, he said.

Conway said the information compiled by the service is accurate, but that the county-operated weather stations will paint a more complete picture of conditions throughout the entire region.

"It might be raining in the northern part of the county, but in other places there is no moisture at all," he said.

The five new stations will be placed in locations already selected by the commissioners. The stations will be arranged to provide coverage northeast and southwest of Havre, along the Milk River, and to the north and south of Rudyard, Conway said.

One of the new weather stations will be placed near a weather service station to compare the two machines' information, Kaercher said. The purpose is to demonstrate to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the new machines are accurate.

It is not clear if the Department is willing to use the information when considering disaster relief, Kaercher said.

"It's something they're watching pretty closely in Washington," he added.

The weather stations, which cost $1,600 a piece, were purchased from a company in New Jersey, Conway said. They have already arrived in Havre and await installation.

The Hill County Commission first became interested in the project after speaking to officials in Toole and Liberty counties, he said. Farmers and ranchers had approached the officials about establishing the weather system in this region.

Liberty County has already installed similar weather stations, and will assist Hill County in setting them up, Conway said. He said he expected the first station to be set up as early as this week.


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