ANSWER MAN: NDSU's new climatologist knows it or will find it

FARGO, N.D. What will the growing season precipitation and temperature be? How will it affect the crops and livestock? And once the crop is harvested, will the winter conditions affect storage and delivery of the crops to market? Those are some o...

FARGO, N.D. What will the growing season precipitation and temperature be? How will it affect the crops and livestock?

And once the crop is harvested, will the winter conditions affect storage and delivery of the crops to market?

Those are some of the questions farmers and ranchers no will ask Adnan Akyuz over a period of years. He's the new North Dakota state climatologist and director of the North Dakota Agriculture Weather Network, inherited from his eminent predecessor, John Enz, who retired last fall.

Akyuz started working Jan. 8, which was his 46th birthday.

So far, he's had a great time planning for an assignment that includes 60 percent research, 15 percent teaching and 25 percent outreach and service.


His first "outreach" duty was attending a spring advanced crop advisory workshop. He's also getting to know the news media. Common questions relate to the recently announced report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Others have asked whether the spring flooding might mean a regional drought is over.

"If a highlight in climate happens, the media always want to go down deep into why it happens," Akyuz says.

Of course there are stock answers.

Weather vs. climate

The fundamental difference between climate and weather forecasting is simple, Akyuz says.

Weather is predicted by dynamic models computer models driven by mathematical equations.

"You can only go from five to eight days out, applying formulas or models," he says. "That's weather prediction."

Climate is anything beyond that.


"There, you have to go to other tools," Akyuz says. "You have to go to climate records or statistical tools, or some tool that allows you to deduce what say, the temperature will be, using proxy data."

Proxy data?

"That means I'll predict something that has a better predictability than trying to predict the temperature in North Dakota," he says as an example. "It's much harder for me to define the algorithm to predict the temperature here next year than it is for me to predict the proxy for example, the sea surface temperature in the tropics."

This is the famous "El Nino" and "La Nina" phenomenon.

Based on past experience, scientists have discovered correlations to North American weather from watching sea surface temperature in the tropics between 120 and 170 degrees longitude and 5 degrees north and 5 degrees south in latitude.

"Sea temperature in that region doesn't change a lot, but when it does, it causes certain changes drastic changes, sometimes and we say the 'signature' is good, or predictable (for North American weather.) Sometimes the temperature gives no clue about U.S. weather."

He offers the examples of U.S. weather in years when the El Nino, or warming in sea surface temperature, was strong 1941, 1958, 1966, 1973, 1983, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1995 and 1998.

The average winter temperature for North Dakota in all years on record from 1941 to 2000 is 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.


"But I would notice that the strong El Nino years, the average temperature goes to 10 to 20 degrees, or 15 degrees on average. There is on the order of a 10-degree shift."

"If I know there's an El Nino, and it's winter in eastern North Dakota, I can know it's (going to be) an above-normal year," Akyuz says. "I don't have to look at the entire climatological history."

In El Nino years, North Dakota has above-normal temperatures eight out of nine times.

Unfortunately, El Nino isn't as good at predicting other seasons, Akyuz says. Also, the climate prediction proxies aren't good at making short-term forecasts, or what's going to happen for a one-week period in the future.

"I've had these questions," Akyuz says. "Someone will ask, what is the temperature going to be for some one-week period in August 2007? Climate prediction doesn't allow you to do that. We're not there yet."

He doesn't know if that degree of accuracy ever will come.

"The weather is driven by a system that is highly dependent on many things we don't even know. There's a theory that if a butterfly flaps its wings in the Canary Islands, it (creates turbulence that leads to) a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico," he says half-joking. "Everything is related to everything else, and it's not linear. Extrapolation is not possible."

Probability? Probably

In the absence of accurate prediction tools, farmers especially must use forecasts to determine their risks.

"They probably use the information of probability vs. actuality," Akyuz says. "What is the probability of killing frost on a particular date. We can construct tables for farmers to use determine what the risks are."

For example, a citizen had a "box" he wanted to place outside that was sensitive to temperatures under 20 degrees Fahrenheit. When was it safe to put it outside? Akyuz told him that based on history there is a 75 percent probability of a 20-degree Fahrenheit or less temperature in Fargo, N.D., after April 1.

"I told him if you want to be 90 percent confident a 10 percent risk you might wait until the last week in April," he says. "But I said given the current trend is below-normal, I'd add additional days. I not only used the past, but the current."

The North Dakota state climate office has an interface that allows any citizen to determine four levels of forecast for any location in the state six to 10 days; eight to 14 days; one month; and three months. The Web site for that is (click on outlook and forecast).

According to the current forecast for April, May and June, eastern North Dakota can expect to have above-normal temperatures. The chance for that to happen is 40 percent.

"There is also a chance that the temperature may be below normal," Akyuz says.

If the probability is 40 percent above-average, farmers and other citizens often will seize upon that statistic alone. They forget that there always is a 33 percent (one-third) chance for normal temperatures. When the normal and above-normal statistics are added together, you get 73 percent.

"The rest 27 percent chance is for below normal," Akyuz notes. "That is the part that most people fail to consider."

Akyuz also publishes a quarterly climate bulletin, 15 days after a current quarter or season ends. Citizen can go to the Web site and download it.

"We don't have the funding or ability to be send it, but if there is a high demand we'll do physical printing" for schools, extension agents and farmers.

The road from Tarsus

Akyuz, is a native of Tarsus, Turkey the hometown of the Apostle Paul of biblical fame.

His father was a banker. He received his bachelor of science degree from Istanbul Technical University in 1984. He was the first in his family to achieve a college degree. He received a government scholarship to pursue a graduate degree in the U.S.

"I didn't speak any English," he says.

He attended English language school for a year in St. Petersburg, Fla., and then went to the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he received his master's of meteorology in 1988 and a doctorate in atmospheric science in 1994. When he was a graduate student, he met his future wife, Tanya from St. Louis, who was the department chairman's secretary.

After getting his doctorate, it was back to Turkey.

"That was the deal," he says. "I did that for two years. I worked as an atmospheric scientist at the national weather service in the capital city of Ankara." To fulfill a military obligation, he then served as an English teacher in a military high school, where his wife taught as well.

Life was "wonderful, perfect" for the young couple in Turkey, he says.

"The plan was to stay in Turkey and settle, but after the end of two years, we decided to come back to the U.S.," he says.

The couple reasoned it would be more feasible to raise children and send them to a university in the U.S. In 1997, they returned to the U.S.

He started working with the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service to establish an automated weather network to monitor climate in the park service.

"It was part of an inventory and monitoring system," Akyuz says.

He handled the central region which involved Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas.

Soon, he applied to a state climatologist position in Missouri. He worked there for eight years and obtained citizenship in 2001.

In 2004, he switched to the National Weather Service in Kansas City, Mo., the central region headquarters. He was a climate services and product specialist, working with climate prediction models.

In fall 2006, he saw a position open in North Dakota that intrigued him.

"I saw that this person would direct the North Dakota Automated Weather Network NDAWN which is what I used to do for the park service and state of Missouri," Akyuz says, and then adds brightly, "And they would teach introductory meteorology and climatology courses."

That was the hook.

"Teaching is something I always wanted to do," he says. "I love answering climate and weather-related questions."

Akyuz has 115 students in the introductory course. He has one graduate-level course coming up next semester microclimatology this fall.

Forecasting a career

As for research, Akyuz says he thinks he can tackle state, regional and even national issues.

"Through the NDAWN system, we have a wealth of weather and climate information, scattered through North Dakota. Most states don't have that wealth of in formation with the density we do here 70 stations, scattered through the state. There is lot of data sitting there, waiting to be analyzed."

Among the ag-related topics is "bioresponse" the response of populations of corn or other crops to the climate.

He also could look at solar radiation issues, as well as how precipitation and temperature variables correlate to yield on various crops.

Another intriguing area: Climate history of the region before the era of weather instrumentation, before 1895.

"There are many ways to do this. One way I'm thinking about is to look at tree rings, analyze them to see what kind of history I can reconstruct before 1895."

Tree rings can correlate not only to wet and dry periods, but also to flooding. Trees don't have to be killed for research, but sample cores can be pulled through a live tree, or a dead tree can provide answers.

Among the new things are collaborations with other institutions. He recently agreed to cooperate with Pennsylvania State University and its state "disease model." Penn State will use NDAWN data to expand its prediction models to North Dakota crop diseases such Fusarium head blight on cereal grains. NDSU plant pathologists already have prediction models that collaborate with NDAWN.

"We are just allowing NDAWN data to be more widely used," Akyuz says. "The more people use NDAWN, the more valuable the NDAWN system will be. That's my intention."

Finally, Akyuz will look for ways to modernize the NDAWN itself. Currently, NDAWN collects data once a day. A change from using telephone lines to wireless radio transmission would be beneficial, but costly up front.

With 70 sites, the cost of roughly $2,000 per site would run to about $140,000.

"If I had about $200,000 today, I would invest in that," Akyuz says.

"If you go to the NDAWN Web site, you find data up to midnight the previous night," he says. "I would like to see changes that happen hourly in near-real time."

With radio transmission, the system becomes more valuable not only to agriculture, but to emergency managers and others who need to know current weather. It might even have applications to guard against bioterrorism.

If Akyuz had a second $200,000, he'd invest in an automated soil moisture network. Such a system involves a set of five soil probes for each station 2 inches, 4 inches, 20 inches and 40 inches.

"I would like to make myself available 'to whom it may concern,'" Akyuz says. "I am willing to help high school kids with homework assignments or to help someone solve a genealogy. Anything.

"That's my job."

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