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PRISM: New-Generation Weather Mapping

06/06/2014 @ 8:02am

With Successful Farming's Tools of the Future Tour beginning on June 12 in Urbandale, Iowa, let's examine some weather-related "Tools of the future" that are becoming the next generation in precision temperature and rainfall data.

PRISM, the next generation in climate mapping, is a mapping system created by a group of scientists at Oregon State University. Beginning with a little history, in the early 20th century most US climate maps were hand drawn, consisting of generalized contours of temperature and precipitation. These contours were drawn between a sparse network of observation stations, and were often based off the subjective opinion of the analyst drawing the maps.

By the early 1990's, the most recent precipitation maps were nearly thirty years outdated. GIS was beginning to become widely accepted, leading to an increase in the demand for digital climate maps. Unfortunately, the first of these digitized maps lacked information on how the physiographic features of earth's surface (Mountains, coastlines, etc), affected weather and climate patterns.

A new approach to developing more accurate climate mapping was developed by Chris Daly in 1991 while he was a Ph.D student at Oregon State University. He knew elevation played a major role in determining precipitation patterns, and as a result developed an innovative technique to quantify the relationship between elevation and precipitation.


The algorithm he originally developed was further enhanced by dividing terrain into "topographic facets" which helped to identify slope exposure and orientation. Since the development of this algorithm, Chris began collecting a talented team of scientists and programmers, eventually becoming the PRISM Climate Group of today. 

Nowadays, the PRISM Climate Group produces high quality, high resolution maps of temperature and precipitation which is being used to improve the efficiency and integrity of the US crop insurance program. In addition to the more obvious benefits high-resolution data can offer for regions with varied topography, here in the Midwest this data can provide farmers and agronomists with a more succinct, accurate, and operationally useful set of temperature and rainfall data. While climatic conditions often vary over large distances, considerably smaller distances, such as farm-to-farm, can exhibit notable differences in climate which affect our ability to relate current weather with what is actually "normal" for a particular location. As a result, high-resolution temperature and precipitation data is becoming more readily available for the agricultural community and will certainly be a useful "Tool of the Future". Credit for story content goes to prism.oregonstate.edu.


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