Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin presented his State of the Commonwealth on Tuesday. He suggested 70 programs that could be eliminated from the state budget.
One of those is the Kentucky Mesonet based at Western Kentucky University. Rhonda Miller spoke with state climatologist and director of the Kentucky Mesonet Stuart Foster about the implications of the governor’s recommended budget cuts on farmers, businesses and individuals across the state.
“Well, it’s certainly not news we wanted to hear and at this point we can’t speculate as to what would happen long-term,” said Foster. “The state funding that we received in the last biennial budget was really critical for us, in terms of helping to unlock the value of the Mesonet and really start to make the investments to grow our services that we provide in communities all across the state of Kentucky.”
What’s that service, basically, for people who aren’t familiar with it?
“The Kentucky Mesonet is statewide infrastructure for weather and climate monitoring. We provide current high-quality observations of weather conditions, right now at 69 locations throughout the state. Those observations go directly to the National Weather Service offices that serve Kentucky. That helps to promote enhanced public safety, helps the weather service to make better forecasts, better decisions about when to issue severe weather warnings, whether it’s winter weather conditions or severe thunderstorms or flash flooding,” said Foster. “It provides them critical information so that they can help to protect people across the state.”
“Another important component of the Mesonet is to help enhance economic development,” said Foster. ”Much of our economy in Kentucky is weather sensitive and probably no sector more so than agriculture. So that’s one of our areas of focus, in terms of providing weather information to support decision-making by farmers.”
Is the Mesonet budget dependent on this state portion of the budget?
“It would certainly be really critical to us. If we look at last year’s budget, about 75 percent, about three-quarters of it, is money from the state,” said Foster.
The annual Kentucky Mesonet budget is about one million dollars, with $750,000 from the state.
“That money has helped to leverage dollars coming at the local level and critically, dollars coming from federal programs,” said Foster. “That’s money coming into Kentucky to support things that benefit people across the state. Our state funding has helped to make that possible. We certainly expect that will continue to grow in the future as long as we have the state support, because the Kentucky Mesonet is one of a very small number of elite weather monitoring networks that exist anywhere across the United States.”
How often do these sites collect weather information?
“Mesonet stations are automated stations that collect weather observations every five minutes throughout the day. So during periods of active weather, like we’ve had recently with winter weather, or when we’re having thunderstorms, that means you have temperature, precipitation and wind measurements coming every five minutes,” said Foster. “When things are happening quickly, that’s important.”
Anything else you’d like to add about the importance of the Kentucky Mesonet?
“Just to say that in the last two years since we’ve received state funding we’ve been able to make some significant upgrades and investments across the state. We have a number of initiatives, some of them focused on agriculture, others in public health, water management and a variety of areas that positively impact people all across the state,” said Foster. “We certainly hope that the state perspective will change and we’ll be able to continue to do the good work and make the progress that we’ve seen over the last two years.”