A team of scientists at the University of Montana is looking for state approval and eventual funding to reopen Montana’s defunct state climate office, saying new technology could help local producers keep tabs on global competition and drive commodity prices.

The breakthroughs have come fast and furious in recent weeks, with one UM team making the cover of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society on its advances in satellite-based global drought monitoring.

A second group last week announced the formation of a new Montana State Climate Office, promoting the tools and satellite sensing available to producers and state agencies. Departure from greenness, drought severity, evaporation and daily climate data are among the potential offerings.

“We have a lot of capacity to do some really great things, especially given the expertise here at UM,” said state climatologist Kelsey Jencso. “It’s important for a farmer who needs to know how much wheat he’ll produce that year, or for an agency that needs to measure greenness over a landscape based on new satellite imagery.”

A team of UM scientists led by Regents Professor of Ecology Steve Running – and aided by the Los Alamos National Laboratory – have developed a new satellite-sensed global drought severity index.

Years in the making and a departure from past thinking, the new index includes data from all major regional droughts over the past decade. It allows accurate assessment and mitigation of regional droughts, including those in Montana, where drought holds a grip over 34 percent of the state.

“When we can do this by satellite, you can literally look at every square mile of the state,” Running said. “We like to think this is a breakthrough for complete coverage of the state, as opposed to simple calculations from local weather stations.”

***

Add it up and the new data, pinned on new technology, could hold implications for Montana agricultural producers, along with state agencies needing accurate and current climate data.

The data could enable observers to follow drought development and “greenness” from week to week across the state. And it could serve as a potential driver of commodity prices, helping producers anticipate good years from bad long before they arrive.

The data also could help ranchers better predict grazing conditions. Farmers around the world could zero in on a particular field and monitor the growth of a single crop.

“If the competitors on the other end of the world are having a good year or bad year, it makes a tangible difference on what your crop here is worth,” Running said. “In today’s global markets, it gives our Montana farmers and ag people another information stream on how other competitors are doing.”

The climate office’s products hold other implications as well. Farmers can more accurately determine how many railroad cars they’ll need at harvest to haul an anticipated crop to market, saving time and money.

Agencies, such as the Montana Department of Transportation, can better anticipate how much gravel to stockpile for winter roads. Large energy users can more accurately budget heating and cooling costs before the season arrives.

“A lot of these ag operations have crop insurance,” said Ashley Ballantyne, assistant state climatologist. “If you’re thinking about whether to buy crop insurance, you want as much information as possible. How variable is the climate? How will it compromise yields over time?”

***

Last September went down in the record books as the driest month in Montana’s recorded history. Rivers and streams ran low, fertile topsoils were parched and wildfires scorched more than 1 million acres.

Five months later, 34 percent of Montana remains under drought conditions, and 7 percent of the state is experiencing extreme drought. Pasture feed conditions in December were rated poor to very poor.

The conditions touch ag producers across the state and impact government’s bottom line. But while Montana is one of the nation’s largest agricultural producers and a respectable exporter of grain, beef and other products, it’s currently one of the only states without a funded climate office.

It hasn’t always been that way. The original office was located at Montana State University. After former state climatologist Joe Caprio retired in 1994, the office went dark. Running said efforts have continued ever since to jump-start the Montana State Climate Office at UM, as designated by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Climate science and its economic and ecological impacts are now better understood, he said. The technology has advanced beyond where it was in the past, promising benefits to Montana and beyond.

“We’re about the only state in the union with no climate office,” Running said. “I’ve made the inquiry to state government. We got authorized by the governor’s office, but with no funding.”

Jared Oyler, a programmer and analyst with the climate team, said the scientific products now available to state producers and government agencies is complete and far reaching. The team recently launched a new webpage promoting its products.

They’ve also met with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Department of Environmental Quality, looking for support. They’re in the process of gaining acceptance into the American Association of State Climatologists, and recognition as an official state climate office is pending.

But while the products are ready and the foundation is in place, the wheels are turning slowly. They hope to begin producing weekly updates by April.

“We’re a member of AASC, but we’re not official,” said Oyler. “That requires collaboration with the National Weather Service. We’ve gotten approval of local NWS offices, but we need a state official to sign off on this. That would be a huge step forward.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

(25) comments

Chuck Feney
Chuck Feney

While you're up, get me a grant... A Big Fat Government Grant!
_________________________
Global Grant Sucking

They treat Earth like their private terrarium
With Chemtrail planes spraying strontium and Barium
Because the want to cause doubt
Between global warming and drought
So they can parasite more government honorarium!
_________
C.U.F.

Cato
Cato

I did appreciate the photo accompanying the article, of the UM weather station, mounted firmly on the roof of a notoriously poorly insulated building, surrounded by about 18,000 square feet of highly reflective asphalt roofing material.

Kuato
Kuato

Call your state representative and tell them no thanks! We got enough high paid do nothing bureaucrats all ready. We have more pressing needs for our tax dollars, and it is much cheaper just to watch "The Big Bang Theory".

J555-5
J555-5

I'll tell the road department how much sand to buy for the next winter. Buy way more than you think you'll ever need. If you don't use it all, save the leftover for next year.

Can I have my $10,000 for my advice?

skater grandpa
skater grandpa

Took a climatology class from Joe Caprio back in the 70's. Didn't realize that department had closed up shop. Why don't we ask the state's ag producers what they need. I know many of them in western MT with irrigation depend on USDA's Snow Survey information to get a good idea how much water and for how long into the dry season it will last. Fisherman and river guides, and power generation dam managers, use this data. Soil moisture monitors were installed at many sites and several sites east of the mountains in the last 5 yrs. Farmers and ranchers have extensively used gov funded ag research centers for decades. Many use precision ag that was developed together with gov and private people (who put up all those GPS sateliites?). Range monitoring for grazing, range ecosite development used by many ranchers was developed by gov scientists. The list goes on and on. I suppose the economics of all this could even improve ag production, thus profit, more money in the economy and thus taxes. I worked with a lot farmers and ranchers for a long time. Even grew up on a farm. Maybe we should ask them if they see enough value for a state climate office. And all the other state and federal gov benefits they receive. Not just the gov payments, but also the technological developments. Then ask the non-farm people if they see any benefits. It's not my grandfather's farm or ranch anymore.

tired of spin
tired of spin

One never wonders at how a few are attempting to push MS, AR and other such intellectual low points out of first place and get MT there. Seems like "hill billy" will soon have to refer to MT's mountains. Just mention world "science" and they come down from trees to feed and feud, knuckles dragging on ground and rabid howls of "what climate changes, ain't no such thing as muy god folks, it snowed in Jan etc" Do hope the more evolved and long time ground dwellers whom chose education over desperate Google search's, cut and paste intellectualism, learn to ignore those with a desperate need to be noticed, to point of making fools of selves and presenting states citizens as mostly 6th grade dropouts, This warming thing is real and accepted by those with more then double digit IQ. Noted the clowns whom howl and bay about this office seem to echo the howls of ole RIcky Santy whom when running for office wanted to sell the USWB, not coincidentally to those making campaign contributions. But since free nation even the way under educated can post as they wish, but like any other discussion nice of them to do so as some humor, rather then facts is needed. If interested might read this link as seems well done and highly regarded truths. But let's back this needed office and let the chicken bone forecasters go back to trees and find something else to bore us with. Great link here and lots of facts.
http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20140213/climate-change-science-carbon-budget-nature-global-warming-2-degrees-bill-mckibben-fossil-fuels-keystone-xl-oil

Roger
Roger

More alarmist nonsense from the kool-aid drinking ignoramuses. Climate change has been occurring for millions of years, and the science shows that our current period is not unnatural, unusual, or unprecedented.

Of course there's nothing wrong with efficiency and energy conservation, but to tie climate change to carbon dioxide emissions is scientifically wrong. There's no positive correlation between carbon dioxide and temperature - the Earth was warmer than today 900 years ago, when there was about 30% less CO2 in the atmosphere. Yet, under alarmist ideology it should have been significantly colder. And that's only one example.

Climate change scientists - at least some of them - have proven to be more interested in promoting alarmism through fraud, corruption, and collusion than in doing actual science.

The hacked emails of ClimateGate revealed "scientists" admitting they have a poor case for human-caused greenhouse warming, and discussing methods of muzzling skeptics. One "scientist" (Phil Jones) declared, "We can't account for the lack of warming, and it's a travesty that we can't."

Another batch of 5,000 emails among "scientists" central to the assertion that humans are causing a global warming crisis revealed three themes: (1) prominent "scientists" central to the global warming debate are taking measures to conceal rather than disseminate underlying data and discussions; (2) these "scientists" view global warming as a political “cause” rather than a balanced scientific inquiry and (3) many of these "scientists" frankly admit to each other that much of the science is weak and dependent on deliberate manipulation of facts and data.

“I’ve been told that IPCC is above national FOI [Freedom of Information] Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 would be to delete all emails at the end of the process",
writes Phil Jones, a "scientist" working with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in a newly released email.

“Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we get – and has to be well hidden,” Jones writes in another newly released email. “I’ve discussed this with the main funder (U.S. Dept of Energy) in the past and they are happy about not releasing the original station data.”

The original Climategate emails contained similar evidence of destroying information and data that the public would naturally assume would be available according to freedom of information principles.


huntskifish
huntskifish

Well then I guess we'd best do away with this silly "science" thing. You've pretty much proved that all "scientists" are corrupt. I think science itself has evolved to be left wing. Why else would all of these "findings" suggest that we should take measures that would hurt the economy? It does make a lot of sense that these lefty scientists would be the ones falsifying the data rather than the selfless ones hired by the industry conglomerates to disprove this whole pesky climate change thing.

Hakon Montag
Hakon Montag

...and you 'could' actually look at the data for the last 15 years and verify that the temperature has not GONE UP while CO2 has gone up...all in perfect DISFUNCTION with all of the predictions based upon ALL of the climate models.

You 'could' do some research...

Re-Made in Montana
Re-Made in Montana

What is the incentive to "invent" man made climate change theory? Alternatively, what is the incentive to deny that fossil fuels are causing it? Follow the money.

Hakon Montag
Hakon Montag

You're so funny. You berate those 'hill billies' for their lack of education and their wanton desire to 'cut and paste' from actual scientific journals...and then you show us all how 'edumacated you are' by your own obvious lack of writing skills...and then direct us to a 'climate blog from a less than scientific source'...

Yup...that is typical for you...

They are also located in Lower Manhattan New York....

Aberdeen
Aberdeen

Geez, if we just had more loggers and miners, all of our problems would go away: we could close the UM (except for Butte), make the auto dealers sell nothing but pickup trucks, keep women where they belong (being housewives), Sherrifs that decide what laws to enforce and make everyone go to a Christian Church on Sunday. Ah, the perfect world for some Montanans. Until then, guess we'll have to struggle by with science, the global market place, computers and the Internet, and OMG, women in the workplace. Someone sure dealt us a bad hand - where are the Copper Barons when we really need them?

BWO
BWO

Ah, the anti-intellectuals have again spoken in the Comments section of the Missoulian. Hillbillies and science don't mix...it's cold fusion by rubbing the Bible with an empty can of PBR...the static shoots off sparks of intolerance and misinterpretations of the 2nd Amendment. Montana is trapped in the 19th century by voters and legislators who drive forward gazing through the rear-view mirror. Don't you know Universities are for the elite and football?

D
D

I know! Well said, BWO.

Hakon Montag
Hakon Montag

ah yes...the gratuitous red-herring denouncement...well done...

Roger
Roger

Bad idea - Running and his accomplices undoubtedly would use the proposed climate office to push their corrupt alarmist agenda. I don't believe farmers and ranchers need these radical leftists to tell them about drought.

MiddleFinger
MiddleFinger

Hey Rog, since you're so smart and 99% of the world's scientists are so stupid (in your opinion), the why don't you hold a public forum where you could debate these professors and show them the truth you found on google that their collective hundreds of years of global study has failed to locate.

Then you could spell out exactly how the universe works, and why they would be much better academics if they carried guns.

And following that triumph, you could toss hat in the ring for the 2016 presidential election. You know a good circus could always use more clowns.

Or, you could start apologizing for your foolish, misguided attempt to derail any meaningful public discourse about this critical topic.

Please, for the good of this plane and all human kind, Rog, bow out now and disappear.

I did say please.

Hakon Montag
Hakon Montag

Ah...the 99% number again...you're so old hat it's pathetic...

huntskifish
huntskifish

Undoubtedly, anyone who wants to use "science" to actually observe and monitor factual information regarding the climate must be a radical leftist. I'm sure they've already made up all of their "alarmist" findings and are now going to use this "climate office" to generate false experiments to "prove" their elitist agenda. Everybody knows these radical kooks are in the pockets of the polar bears and penguins, who always selfishly want more ice. An office devoted to looking at actual evidence is a waste of time since we've already decided to believe that there is absolutely no climate change, no matter what.

Hakon Montag
Hakon Montag

Undoubtedly anyone who wants to deny that ALL of the dire predictions for he last 15 years have been wrong...ALL of which were confirmed by all that DATA that has been taken for the last 15 years...

You 'could' do some research...then again...it might be over your head...

Sukey
Sukey

How wonderful. Can we spend our hard earned tax dollars on reopening this service? It just makes too much sense and helps so many people. Good luck to you.

hellgatenights
hellgatenights

BTW.....Mr. Kidston, author of this version of "Oxyclean" (RIP Billy Mays)......these men are NOT officials.

hellgatenights
hellgatenights

I kind of expected them all to be wearing birkenstock's

hellgatenights
hellgatenights

Sorry Ladies....I am 100% with the Governor on this one......NO FUNDING FOR YOU! IF YOUR PRODUCTS ARE NEEDED IN THE MARKETPLACE, THEN SELL THEM TO THE MARKETPLACE.......RANCHERS, FARMERS, STATE AGENCIES ETC.The state procures services and products ALL year long from QUALIFIED vendors, so take all this MARKETING HYPE and SELL it!

You certainly do not need start up capital with that big bag of AWARD money that Mr. Running won from the morons in Oslo.

But I sense a problem here.....what is it. Hmmmm......yes! I see the problem.......four public parasites want to enjoy the fruits of the hard working entrepreneurs in the free market, but they WANT US TAXPAYERS to fund their dreams. Um.......no!

There is not one of you that has half the brain of a farmer or rancher. These capitalists (Ohhhh.....did I make your skin crawl with that evil word??),.....as I was saying, capitalists PRODUCE their good and services and take it to the market. They have to deal with every imaginable conflict on the way to market (Including government meddling) and NEVER have certainty that they will get the price desired. The owners that best predict the market and adjust to it fare best, and they take the cake.

Now you ladies talk a big story here......predicting weather, prices, market conditions, commodity availability etc. This really sounds great........unbelievable, but great. Now just put on your capitalist hat, take off your kneepads (for begging), and go get rich!

Huh? You don't understand anything I am talking about? True.....I knew that you wouldn't. What you might need is a "Professor of Economics" instead of a "Professor of Ecology".....I am sure there is one around here somewhere.

I know....I know......people don't believe anything you say and all the students you lied to about "Resource Management" and "Green" jobs have lost faith in you. FIRST rule of the entrepreneur......."Have faith, be positive.....and don't give up." Whoops? You want me to explain faith? Well......in a nutshell, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence not seen. Mind boggling isn't it! We of faith do not believe we will be burned to a tater chip in Steve Running's apocalyptic vision of future earth, after the ravages of the imaginary angel of death "Global Warming."

Sorry Steve.....your moment in the sun is over......but as a nice consolation prize, you get a taxpayer paid full retirement for all your good deeds.

tired of spin
tired of spin


Huh? You don't understand anything I am talking about? True.....I knew that you wouldn't. What you might need is a "Professor of Economics"

Had you ever taken any college econ you'd know that econ is not what you seem to wnat to describe.

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