AMES, Iowa — Iowans wanting recent weather event details, along with farmers and agronomists interested in soil temperatures, growing degree days and precipitation amounts are frequent visitors to the Iowa Environmental Mesonet (IEM) website at http://mesonet.agron.iastate.edu/. IEM is a valuable resource for scientists and climatologists needing overlaid information, as well as those wanting historical comparisons or details of Midwest environmental conditions.
Daryl Herzmann is at the helm of the Iowa Environmental Mesonet in Agronomy Hall on the Iowa State University campus, surrounded by and connected to a network of computers. As the manager of the IEM website, Herzmann is responsible for gathering, collecting, disseminating and archiving weather observation data.
The electronic data comes from many sources — KCCI-TV Schoolnet8, ISU weather stations at research farms, the National Weather Service, and Iowa Department of Transportation weather stations — all IEM partners. Each source has multiple systems reporting data, but they have limited capability to archive data long-term or “overlay” or combine their systems’ data. That’s where Herzmann applies his skills, turning a torrent of information into the best useable data.
“In Iowa, weather is the limiting factor in corn and soybean production,” said Herzmann. “Farmers and ag consultants use the Iowa mesonet to compare data and extrapolate it for management of insects and diseases, and to predict yields and harvest dates. When they can’t find what they want, they send me an email.”
Herzman replies to the emails, which he said, is unusual for state mesonet systems — many provide no contact information and offer no form of interaction. He responds to an average of 40 questions each day, either by phone or email. He said emails arrive from folks who came to the website, clicked on the Ag Weather button, and ventured into Growing Degree Day, precipitation, soil moisture, soil temperature or stress degree day pages to plot, chart or compare current or growing season data and ended up in a virtual rabbit hole.
Herzmann has 170 rabbit holes tunneling through IEM data. Rabbit holes are his analogy of the applications available on the website that present IEM data in useful ways. He applies his degree in meteorology and feedback from users to fine tune and create new ones. He puts data in useable formats, packages it into products others can use and share. In fact, he is the number one provider of weather service information to the National Weather Service.
“It’s hard to know exactly how many people access the Iowa Environmental Mesonet each day but it’s thousands, based on Web statistics,” said Elwynn Taylor, professor of agronomy and extension climatologist with Iowa State. “Those accessing the website share it with thousands more. This is powerful university outreach, where science, technology and human creativity are put to work for the benefit of many.”
Herzmann directs data into the Iowa Daily Erosion Project’s estimates of rainfall, runoff, and soil erosion for the state of Iowa — providing valuable information for the agricultural community, students, researchers and folks in the weather business. On a personal side, he incorporates his interests and insights into the website through the daily IEM feature article and interesting features and invites visitors to comment.
Daryl Herzmann (photo by Barb McBreen)