Plum Advance Leader

Weather group attracting meteorology buffs
By Ken Sines, Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Although massive amounts of rainfall make them no happier than anyone else in Western Pennsylvania, there is a group of residents spread throughout the East Suburbs who meet once a month to turn a curious eye to the heavens and view with interest the darkened skies that foretell a coming storm. And, on the second Tuesday of each month, this group of local weather watchers gathers in New Kensington to trade ideas, share information and discuss the often interesting and more often wet weather of Pennsylvania.

Operating as a subgroup of the Skyview Radio Society (a local amateur radio club with more than 75 members), the Weather Group focuses on people interested in meteorology who want to aid local and national emergency management and provide a base of information about Pittsburgh weather patterns.

"We have a number of projects up and running," says Robert Bastone, a member and former president of the Skyview Society, "and we are looking to set up our system so that it works with our weather station and we can have remote access. "That access and control of the station will be really important, because we are going to be working with the National Weather Service as a part off its SKYWARN program that uses amateur radio to help with severe weather management."

Tony Joint and Ted Falkowsky work to link the Weather Group computers to the Davis Weather Station so that they can begin to collect and process information

Tony Joint and Ted Falkowsky work to link the Weather Group computers to the Davis Weather Station so that they can begin to collect and process information

The SKYWARN program depends on individuals to provide firsthand reports because, despite advances in computer technology, sometimes nothing compares to the accuracy and detail provided by actual observation of weather events.

"We know where it's raining, and have computer guidance on when or where it should flood, but we cannot tell if flooding is already starting," says Marcie Katcher of the National Weather Service. "Likewise, we know if it's windy, but cannot tell if the winds have toppled trees, caused power outages or damaged structures."

To that end, SKYWARN employs a network of spotters around the country who are instructed on how to spot severe weather and to report items like storm damage and heavy snowfall accumulations.

Currently, the Weather Group is working toward joining the SKYWARN program, but needs to finish linking its current computer base to the Davis Weather System that will be used to collect information. The Davis Weather System is the same one used by thousands of high schools, colleges, storm chasers and government agencies throughout the world.

The first course of action in establishing the link is to decide if a recently installed memory upgrade is causing the problem. If it is not, there are literally hundreds of minor issues that could be causing the problem, but Bastone is not worried. Many of the members of the Skyview Radio Society participate in the Weather Group, which contains no shortage of people with computer skills.

Once all of the Weather Group's computer problems are resolved, the members can join thousands of other amateur radio operators and would-be weather watchers across the country in providing information and help in times when Mother Nature decides to flex her meteorological muscles.

Although participating in the SKYWARN project is the main goal of the Weather Group, other activities include touring the broadcast station, upgrading the information systems and hosting talks by weather-related authorities. "With all of the local flooding in September and even the amount of rain in the fall, we have had a great interest in our activities," says Bastone.

Weather group meetings are held on the second Tuesday of every month, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the society's facility located at 2335 Turkey Ridge Road in New Kensington.