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Talking about the weather

FARGO - 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 th...

FARGO - 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 now will ask Adnan Akyuz. 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, 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.

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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.

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

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

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

Climate is anything beyond that.

"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 would include information such as the sea surface temperature in the tropics, the famous "El Nino" and "La Nina" phenomenon.

"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."

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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 said. 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 said. "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.

A native of Turkey

Akyuz is a native of Tarsus, Turkey.

He received his bachelor's 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 said.

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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 said. "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 said.

"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. (in 1997)," he said.

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

Soon, he applied for 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 said, and then added brightly, "And they would teach introductory meteorology and climatology courses."

That was the hook. "Teaching is something I always wanted to do," he says.

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

Among 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.

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

Reprinted from Agweek.

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