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How Forecasting Frost Can Save Fish

Wine growers in Sonoma County, California have fought a long battle against crop-killing frost. They need to protect their vines from frost, but some methods use so much water from the nearby Russian River that they can hurt fish. NOAA’s National Weather Service found a way to potentially help both the farmers and the fish.

Besides being the source of grape-saving water, the Russian River also serves as a source of drinking water and as irrigation for other types of agriculture. Water extraction can reduce the water level in the river and its tributaries, leaving fish stranded during periods of critical demand in the spring, summer, and early fall. The Weather Service had to consider all of these competing uses to solve the problem.

Sonoma County water resource managers and farmers needed improved prediction of frost conditions to plan ahead and manage water resources more effectively. With better managed flows in the Russian River, there will be less stress on the endangered coho salmon and threatened Chinook and steelhead that make the river their home.

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Lab teamed with the National Weather Service to develop a high-resolution, digital forecast using real-time vineyard temperature data combined with terrain, surface, and real-time observations to inform their models.

Planning is also underway to install a device called a SODAR—Sound Detection and Ranging—that provides measurements of the height of the warm air during frost conditions, called inversion. If the inversion is shallow, using fans to mix the warmer air aloft with the cold air near the surface may eliminate the use of water. Geyserville, CA has been chosen as the site to test this equipment.

This digital forecast system will be evaluated through the 2013 frost season.

Posted April 15, 2013

Fighting vineyard frost with sprinklers is not always the best thing for fish or farmers.