As they swelter under the heatwave sweeping the nation this week, the country’s farmers can at least take heart from a new app that provides localised information to help predict the likely weather pattern in their area.
CliMate, a free app available through the iTunes store, gives localised information for rainfall, temperature and sunlight radiation data for the past 60 years, based on data collated by the Bureau of Meteorology. While it won’t tell farmers when they should sow or harvest crops, it can help them find the best time to do so, based on the historical weather performance of their area.
“The last six months can tell us a lot about water or heat; how much hotter than average it’s been,” environmental scientist and app developer David Freebairn says. “The long-term record gives a prediction of what it’ll be tomorrow or in two months’ time.”
A farmer wanting to time a wheat crop so that it only flowered after the last frost of the season – to prevent it flowering during frost and not seeding – could use the app to check the likely timing of frost in his location.
“It’ll just go and look through records day by day and say ‘for each year, this is the probability of [being] this hot and cold’,” Freebairn says. “It won’t give an answer to say ‘do something’. It allows you to explore the 60 years of records and basically work out your own odds. Farmers do a lot of this stuff intuitively. It takes a bit of subjectivity out of it.”
The localised records come from data gathered by stations in rural areas, usually the local post office – a practice that started in the 1890s, Freebairn says. The app, which has taken 18 months to develop and which Freebairn says is likely to have a total cost of $300,000, continually updates itself as modern-day weather records are incorporated into Bureau of Meteorology data.
The app has been developed by the national Managing Climate Variability (MCV) program, a partnership between the Grains Research and Development Corporation, Meat & Livestock Australia, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, the Sugar Research and Development Corporation and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Peter Holding, a farmer in south-east NSW who has winter crops and wool lambs, is one of 1300 people to have downloaded the app since it was launched in mid-December.
“I find it very good for clarifying my vision of what I think is happening,” Holding says. “As I get closer to sowing I will definitely be running the how wet /nitrogen section to see if my estimates compare with the app and maybe refine my final decisions.”
Fires flared up in Tasmania over the weekend, destroying property and as many as 100 homes on the Tasman Peninsula and others have started in other parts of the state. With temperatures soaring on Tuesday – the bureau was forecasting a maximum for Sydney of 43 degrees – NSW faces a day of extreme fire risk.
Anyone can use the app to get a better understanding of current weather conditions. The town of Bicheno in eastern Tasmania, where a 4000-hectare bushfire started over the weekend, had temperatures of 34.2 degrees celsius on Thursday last week and 38.1 on Friday.
Consulting the app, Freebairn says Bicheno has not had two days of above-34 degrees in the past 60 years.