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Big data key to bringing hyperlocal weather forecasts to Georgia farmers

Jaikumar Vijayan | April 28, 2014
Farmers in southwest Georgia's Flint River Valley could one day get accurate, hyperlocal weather forecasts just for their individual farms up to three days in advance.

Deep Thunder was created jointly by IBM and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of a project launched in 1996. After years in IBM's research labs, the technology is now sold to utility companies, city governments and others as a cloud-based offering that's used for precision weather forecasting.

The Flint River project will ingest and crunch data from numerous sources, including NOAA, several weather stations set up in the region by the University of Georgia, and the Earth Network WeatherBug system. The system will also evaluate land use, vegetation, topography and other geographic data from the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA.

Researchers from the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District, the Department of Agriculture, the University of Georgia and IBM are using sophisticated big data analytics to produce detailed weather forecasts.

"The amount of data that goes into each forecast is many tens of gigabytes," said Lloyd Treinish, chief scientist of IBM's Deep Thunder project. But once the extraction and filtering and quality control work is done, the amount of data that to be analyzed is reduced by an order of magnitude, he said.

A full 72-hour forecast will be about 320 gigabytes but what gets disseminated to the farmers is much less.

Farmers will be able to track weather conditions that apply specifically to them, in 10-minute increments, up to 72 hours in advance, Trennish said,

Using a desktop or mobile browser, farmers will be able to view site-specific forecasts from IBM's Deep Thunder weather forecasting portal. Some of the forecasts will be available as high-definition videos while others will be in the form of detailed two-dimensional animations of rainfall patterns, cloud movements and soil moisture evolutions, Treinish said.

Farmers will also be able to view the information numerically in spreadsheet form.

Farmers will be able to track thunderstorms, temperatures and wind speed variances for their specific locations during different times of the day. They will know with more certainty if a rain system will produce an eighth or a quarter inch of water, or if the wind speeds would prohibit chemical applications.

Some day soon, Reckford wants the forecasts pushed directly to farmers in the field. Instead of having farmers visit the Deep Thunder portal to access forecasts, Reckford wants them to be able to receive forecasts directly on their smartphones and tablets.

The information presented via the Deep Thunder platform will help farmers make more informed decisions and present them with a variety of options. "This is really about engaging decision makers by providing them with high quality information," Treinish said. "We provide detailed information about the impacts and choices that are driven by a weather event, but [the farmers] are the ones making the decisions."


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