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Whidbey weather watchers keep their eyes on the skies

Clark Bishop of Ebey Road Farm relies on the Washington State University Ag Weather Net automated weather station located at his grandparents’ property on Engle Road. For evening and nighttime hay baling, it’s important to wait for the correct amount of dew – and instead of heading out to the fields in middle of the night, he can check the data online from his home computer. - Elisabeth Murray photo
Clark Bishop of Ebey Road Farm relies on the Washington State University Ag Weather Net automated weather station located at his grandparents’ property on Engle Road. For evening and nighttime hay baling, it’s important to wait for the correct amount of dew – and instead of heading out to the fields in middle of the night, he can check the data online from his home computer.
— image credit: Elisabeth Murray photo

Every morning at 8 a.m., come rain or shine, Jack Marian dutifully records the precipitation from the past 24 hours and the current temperature at his home on West Beach Road.

And he has done so for at least the past 15 years.

Marian is one of 11 volunteers who track the weather for Washington State University’s Island County Extension, and he is consistent in his observations.

“If you do it every day, you don’t forget,” Marian said. “There is not much to it.”

Marian calls in his data once a week to the extension office, which sends it on to The Whidbey Examiner, which gathers local weather data for publication each week. Every now and then, when the weather data is left out of the paper to make room for something else, the newspaper office gets lots of phone calls from people asking why it was left out. Islanders seem to count on it.

“I hate to turn it in and think that it is not being used,” Marian said, adding that he always enjoys seeing it in print.

As a WSU Master Gardener, Carolyn Mercer of Greenbank knows why some people rely on this kind of data.

She has been tracking the weather for the past six years, and weather records help her make decisions when it comes to her plantings – and avoid deadly frosts. Her data also gets printed in the Examiner.

Mercer said the weather makes an interesting conversation piece – especially when people’s recollections of what the weather was like differ from what actually occurred.

Some weather keepers have been at it for a lot longer than either Mercer or Marian.

Rod Barnes, whose data also appears in the Examiner, has been tracking the weather since September 1981 and has missed only one or two days in that 30-year span. When he heads out of town, his son fills in to measure rainfall and temperature for the Extension report.

Barnes’ interest in meteorology began during his Navy career, and in his retirement he has been recording all kinds of details: the high and low temperature of each day, cloud cover, precipitation and any other interesting weather phenomenon.

“It’s an interesting hobby,” Barnes said.

But even Barnes’ 30 years pale in comparison to one family’s continuous record.

Coupeville’s Engle family has been recording weather data since 1922. That was the year that Ralph Engle began tracking the weather. After he died, his son, Burton, and then his daughter-in-law after him, Verna, took over.

Maintaining the family record keeping legacy for the past 20 years is David Engle, who dutifully records the high and low temperatures and precipitation each day.

At the end of the month, Engle sends his data directly to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I have gotten caught up in tradition,” Engle said. “I am carrying on something that people I loved, loved to do.”

 

Automated data

In addition to volunteers collecting data at their homes, Washington State University tracks the weather with its Ag Weather Net System, 138 automated weather stations scattered throughout the state.

The stations track soil temperature, rainfall, dew point and air temperature – all of which is important information for local farmers.

The data is recorded every five seconds and summarized every 15 minutes.

Clark Bishop of Ebey Road Farm just outside Coupeville compiles the rainfall data from the automated station located on Engle Road.

Checking this data online from a computer – rather than heading outdoors – helps avoid “unnecessary wandering around at night,” Bishop said with a laugh.

For evening and nighttime hay baling, farmers must wait for the correct amount of dew – information that they can get from the weather system rather than having to check their fields in person.

The Whidbey Island Conservation District also makes use of the weather system’s rainfall data when designing rain gardens using Low Impact Development techniques, said Karen Bishop, district manager for the local conservation district.

“We are lucky to have that station here,” Clark Bishop said.

Even in a small geographic area – like Central Whidbey – weather varies from location to location.

Having the station nestled in the midst of Ebey’s Prairie gives Coupeville area farmers precise information about current conditions for their fields, he said.

The closer your land sits to the weather station, the better.

Few people are more interested in the weather than a farmer, Bishop said with a laugh.

“Weather is the first thing we talk about,” Clark said. “It is always the source of conversation.”

 

 

 

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