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UGA weather network on comeback trail

'We're always going to need people to step up and contribute'

POSTED: March 26, 2013 12:37 a.m.

Strapped for cash, a network of University of Georgia weather stations was set to close in the summer of 2011.

While the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network hasn’t struck it rich since then, the network, which includes two stations in Hall County, has pulled from the brink and today is holding its own.

“Is the budget situation solved? The answer is ... it’s always going to be in flux,” said Donn Shilling, the network’s administrator.

“Do we feel better about where we are than where we were a year ago? Yes.”

The network is “a huge operation” that’s about 40 percent publicly funded and 60 percent privately funded, he said.

“We are out on the trail raising funds almost on a continuous basis,” said Shilling, who also heads the University of Georgia’s Department of Crop & Soil Sciences.

“I could go on with a list of people I’ve been talking to.

“There’s tons of support statewide, and we feel much better where we are financially, but we’re always going to need people to step up and contribute.”

Crop & Soil Sciences falls under UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, which established the network in 1991.

The network now has more than 80 stations.

Each station records rainfall, air and soil temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, soil moisture and barometric pressure, according to the network’s website. Some also record evaporation, water temperature and leaf wetness.

Hall’s stations are at Clarks Bridge Park in Gainesville and the University of North Georgia-Gainesville near Oakwood, according to the weather network’s website.

A station was installed in January at the Three Sisters Vineyards in Lumpkin County.

Hard times hit in 2011 as the Great Recession was taking its toll.

The network had planned to end operations July 1 of that year because of “the loss of state funding and key personnel,” but funding from an unnamed donor allowed the network to keep operating.

Michael Wheeler, county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County, said the weather network has proven to be a great resource.

“One of the ways I use it is to determine soil temperatures and that will tell you when to plant or not to plant,” he said.

Wheeler said he also appreciates the network’s database.

“It’s pretty large and they sum it up nicely in a usable format,” he said.

As far as the network’s past financial problems, Wheeler said those troubles “have been off the radar for a long while.”

“I haven’t even thought about their funding sources, because I knew everything got restored or funded some way,” he said.


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