When weather's bad, they're feeling good NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro


April 28, 1993|By PAT BRODOWSKI

Dark rumbling clouds boil in the sky. Gusting winds rip away jackets and hats. Raindrops shoot into the earth like spikes. It's a good weather day -- if you're a weather observer.

Carroll County has five observers. Bobby Miller and Herb Close Jr. both watch the weather in North Carroll. They are part of a national network of home observers whose detailed measurements feed the National Weather Service's daily statistics.

This is a hobby for the hearty. Most folks saw the March 13 blizzard out their windows while they stayed inside and sipped hot cocoa. Up on the Mason-Dixon line east of Lineboro, Mr. Miller charged outdoors every hour from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m. the next day to measure the snowfall and read the sky.

"I love all kinds of weather, as long as the roof stays on the house," he says.

Mr. Close, who lives in Manchester within sight of Carroll County's second-highest point, 1,000 feet above sea level, pointed his mini-cam into the blizzard. He recorded his highest ever wind speed of 69 mph. He hardly ever got off the telephone to worrying friends and relatives and excited weathermen.

"My favorite weather is snow," he said. "I never had my fill as a kid. I used to keep track of snow to see if I had school the next day."

Weather-watching is a hobby for those who love gadgets. Mr. Miller's weather station has transformed his back yard into something like a moon base. He has three styles of rain gauges. There are four thermometers in the soil, plus two for air that are housed in heat-reflecting white boxes. The totalizing anemometer, a speedometer for the wind, is anchored by 3 feet of concrete. The snow stick is boldly labeled to be visible from the house.

"You can get all kinds of neat info from your back yard," says Mr. Miller.

Indoors, each of these men has devoted a room to the weather. There are digital recorders for maximum and minimum barometer, temperature, wind speed and direction, and time of day. The needles of barometers, humidity gauges and wind speed recorders float behind glass disks.

Television sets and radios yield glimpses of area weather, minute by minute.

"I like to be surprised, but not too surprised," says Mr. Miller. "I want to be on top of the weather patterns and systems that will affect Carroll County for the next day or two."

In Mr. Close's weather room, there's a photograph of him at a weather conference. He's barely visible inside a parka atop Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the peak noted for the highest wind speed -- 231 mph -- ever recorded by man.

Weathermen love statistics. For 11 years, Mr. Miller has measured the weather every day at 6 p.m. If it's stormy, he takes measurements more frequently. His reports are published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They form a link in the profile of weather for areas beyond Baltimore.

"Forecasts issued by TV are for Baltimore, Annapolis and vicinity. They don't really cover Carroll County," says Mr. Miller.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Close store thick books of data near at hand. Mr. Close's specialty is climatological observations, viewing shifting weather patterns over the whole of Maryland.

"You might say I'm a weather historian," he says, pulling files of weather data from the 1800s off the shelf. "Weather extremes are fascinating. It gets in your blood. They're dangerous and excite our curiosity. But we don't like to see anyone get hurt or have property damage. [Recording] helps us better prepare ourselves for it."

The March 13 blizzard didn't break any snowfall records, he'll tell you. On Palm Sunday 1942, Westminster got 32 inches of snow. There were twin snowstorms in 1958. In February 1958, we got 15 to 18 inches of the stuff. In March 1958, 34 inches of wet snow slopped over thoughts of spring.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Close both began watching the weather as students in elementary school. Neither received college education in meteorology. They educated themselves as their interests grew.

"It's a real neat hobby to be in," says Mr. Miller. "You can be your own weather observer and climatologist, collect data and give it to the public. It's quite elaborate, with all kinds of instrumentation. You get a feel for what the observer goes through when the weather is exciting."

Mr. Miller was hooked on weather in 1966.

"A blizzard spurred my interest," he says. "I wondered why this couldn't happen more often. I enjoy today the cool, drizzly days, the snowstorms. It's all pretty exciting."

He identifies several types of dark clouds converging overhead. Each name contains "nimbus," Latin for "rain."

Later, thick fog rolls in.

In North Carroll, the weather puts on a good show.

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