Big Data Watch

Big data key to bringing hyperlocal weather forecasts to Georgia farmers

Researchers say tools would help Flint River Vally farmers conserve water and increase long-term crop yield

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"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."

Both Reckford and Treinish, though, remain somewhat cautious when it comes to predicting the accuracy of the forecasts that will be generated by Deep Thunder.

The models generated by Deep Thunder will need to be validated against historical data collected by the University of Georgia weather stations over the years, to asses the accuracy of the forecasts over the long term.

"Accuracy means different things to different people," Treinish said.

Some farmers for instance, are less concerned about rainfall predictions than temperature forecasts. "Are they worried more about an inch of rain or about 90 degree heat or about too much wind to put their fertilizer down?"

The forecasts will never be perfect, Treinish conceded. "The key is we are reducing the error rate," to about half compared to the usual forecasts, he said.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

See more by Jaikumar Vijayan on Computerworld.com.

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