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Montana climate project to install remote weather stations

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MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — University of Montana researchers recently received a $21 million government contract, bringing more support and longevity to what has been a grassroots effort to build a better climate monitoring network across the state.

The funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will pay to expand and enhance a collaborative project spearheaded by UM’s Montana Climate Office in 2016 that aims to fill in gaps in weather and soil moisture data throughout the state.

“This project is very unique,” said Kelsey Jencso, a lead researcher and associate professor of watershed hydrology at UM. “This is a very applied project. It has a particular goal, which is to better monitor soil moisture, snowpack, weather hazards and climate conditions.”

Through partnerships with government agencies, including the Montana Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Land Management, Montana State University, watershed groups, and private farmers and ranchers, the Montana Climate Office, part of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, has installed 80 weather stations in the last four years across Montana.

Called Montana Mesonet, the project allows researchers and state agencies to better characterize drought conditions across Montana for planning around agriculture, water supplies and evolving fire conditions, Jencso said in a phone interview. With the additional money from the contract, they’ll be able to add stations in central and eastern portions of the state, where historically, data has been under measured.

“It’s not that snow doesn’t occur out in central and eastern Montana, it’s just that we don’t have stations to record that and so these data points become really important for daily models by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and Weather Service flood forecast center,” Jencso told the Missoulian.


The $21 million Army Corps contract will cover new equipment and sensors and pay for