Finksburg man takes watching weather seriously CENTRAL--Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS

January 18, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Ray Muller is the kind of guy who can't walk out his front door without turning his eyes to the sky.

"Those are stratocumulus clouds," he says, studying the gray masses and wondering aloud if he should change his forecast. He decides, "no." He'll stick with no precipitation for the day.

This 43-year-old Finksburg resident lives weather. Once in the morning and twice in the evening, he checks cloud types, temperatures, dew point, humidity and barometric pressure, precipitation and wind speed in downtown Finksburg.

His wife, Linda, takes the midday readings while he is at work.

He observes, analyzes and forecasts. The information he supplies goes into written records, over the telephone to callers who want the inside word on the weather and occasionally to local radio and television stations.

"He's excellent," says Paul W. Richardson, assistant to the Maryland state climatologist. "He's one of our best observers. His reports are very complete."

Mr. Muller has loved weather from the time he was a fifth-grader at Winfield Elementary School, when the class studied it. His uncle made him a rain gauge and some instruments, and he started reading about weather.

He might have become a professional weather observer, but he says job prospects in the field are poor. Automated weather stations are replacing human observers.

But Mr. Muller doesn't like them. "We eyeball the sky. A machine can't do that," he says.

Mr. Muller estimates that he spends about an hour each morning, 1 1/2 hours each evening and several hours on weekends immersed in the study of weather. He is one of only two observers in the county who take soil temperatures, important to farmers because seeds planted in ground too cold will not germinate.

The Finksburg weatherman's daily routine includes drawing two weather maps for forecasting. He could tape the satellite weather maps from television newscasts onto his VCR for study at leisure, but he likes to draw his own.

"When you draw your own charts, you put your own input into it," he says. "It's not like the machine is doing it for you."

He keeps the data handy for friends, farmers or other callers who just want to know if it's going to rain on their picnics.

Then there's the paperwork: the weekly county weather summary that he puts together for the National Weather Service from data collected by local observers; the monthly report to the state climatologist that lists daily maximum and minimum temperatures, amounts of precipitation, weather events such as fog or thunder and, during heavy rains, water levels in nearby Beaver Run.

Beginning this month, Mr. Muller is scheduled to provide a monthly precipitation report to Baltimore City watershed management workers, who want to know whether they can count on a full Liberty Reservoir.

That doesn't include Mr. Muller's own records, which fill a black notebook with 14 years of climatological data for downtown Finksburg. The distinction makes a difference, since temperatures vary slightly between the valley where he lives and the higher elevations of greater Finksburg.

Mr. Muller started collecting data after he and his wife moved to Finksburg in 1979. In 1981, he became a registered volunteer weather observer, one of about 180 in Maryland and Delaware who supply information to the state climatologist at the University of Maryland College Park.

Mr. Muller dreams of a computer that would speed the reports he now has to type or write by hand, but he already has an estimated $1,000 invested in weather equipment.

"For a one-man operation, it's pretty busy," he says. But it gets more than pretty busy when the alarm sounds on his weather-band radio, signaling a severe storm watch or warning. As one who tracks severe-storms for the National Weather Service office at BWI Airport, Mr. Muller says the alarm is his signal to "start monitoring everything."

He turns up the pilot and weather radios to get the combination of ground level and in-air information, grabs his anemometer to check average wind speed and gusts and, when the rain comes, measures the rate of rainfall. And of course the phone will be ringing, because the weather service wants to know what he sees.

The 1992 storm that stands out in Mr. Muller's mind was the Dec. 10 cyclone that formed off the coast of New Jersey and hit that state and New York City .

"That storm had everything with it," Mr. Muller says.

He has never thought about turning in his National Weather Service and his Atlantic Coast Observer Network cards.

"If you didn't do this for two or three days . . . You'd miss it."

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