All across Australia, the weather influences what happens each day in many sectors – agriculture, utilities, mining, transport, and the communities that support them. Given the importance in our country’s regional communities and industry we are investing to explore a way of creating a nationwide hyper-local weather network.

We’ve got a pilot plan to help agribusinesses better understand and forecast hyper-local weather using our Internet of Things (IoT) mobile network which covers 4 million square kilometres of Australia’s landmass.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) supplies forecast data for the entire country, and therefore must cater for an extreme set of variables while covering a land mass that is comparable to the continental United States.

Given the size of Australia and the data that the Bureau has at hand, the science behind the modelling of Australia’s national weather forecasts is up there with the best in the world. However, with less than a tenth of the population of the USA, Australia must explore different approaches in forecasting that are more economical while still enhancing our international competitiveness.

Australia’s agricultural industry is directly affected by this dilemma. Farming is an undertaking where understanding the weather can mean the difference between a thriving business or a struggling one. Day-to-day decision making and planning on farms across Australia often revolves around weather conditions – and yet in 2021, local weather observations, ‘nowcasts’ and seven-day forecasts are not specific or local enough to use that information productively.

It is this “hyper-local” weather data and forecast system that we plan to deliver using our nationwide Internet of Things (IoT) mobile network.

Hyper-local forecasting demands a far more granular net of robust weather data and needs to function differently economically to be viable. To explore this complexity, we’ve partnered with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), Pessl Instruments and the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) on a project, where we’ll build a test system across the Lockyer Valley, Darling Downs and Granite Belt regions of the state.

Centred around Toowoomba, the first phase of the project will see the deployment of 55 robust, high quality IoT-enabled weather stations to existing Telstra mobile network sites, private farms and DAF research facilities to create the necessary grid of hyper-local and highly detailed observation data.

Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said more accurate weather forecasts would help producers better manage the effects of climate change on their businesses.

“Access to better local weather data will support improved management decisions on crop production, labour and the supply chain. This project will help to fill that gap by testing the viability of a weather network service to provide highly localised weather information at an affordable price,” Mr Furner said.

Due to the extreme reach of our national narrowband IoT network, this project will deliver weather insights where they haven’t existed before, and with the data ownership management capabilities of the Telstra Data Hub, we can ensure any private information is protected and private data suppliers’ interests are supported.

Once we’ve collected, checked, cleaned, and organised the data for this pilot project, it will be then used by the Bureau to develop hyper-local weather forecasts for the region. That forecast and the dense grid of observation data will be then made available to the project’s participants via the Telstra Data Hub.

Importantly, we realise that while we have an extensive set of sites to use across the entire nation to implement this project, there are also existing networks and local organisations servicing regional industry. We think that the most effective and sustainable way to deliver a national outcome is to partner with those organisations to develop commercial opportunities that can support regional industry.

Our hope is that the trial can develop an economically sustainable service that helps Queensland agribusiness, and also enable us to develop a sustainable and equitable partner model to eventually deploy the thousands of IoT weather stations to enhance our regional economy and international competitiveness.

Image: Queensland State Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries and Minister for Rural Communities Mark Furner examines an IoT-enabled weather station at the launch of the project.