A meteorologist from the National Weather Service was on the Island recently servicing its two weather stations. Alan Dunham, 55, the regional observing program leader who made the visit from headquarters in Taunton, has Island ties.
His uncle was the late David W. Dunham, a resident of Vineyard Haven who died in January 2000.
Mr. Dunham’s first stop on his trip to the Vineyard was the Federal Aviation Administration tower at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, where he met with air traffic controllers about their automated weather gathering instruments.
While details about the weather equipment are not made public due to Homeland Security rules, Mr. Dunham said the airport has a number of real-time automated weather devices around the runway complex. The equipment measures temperature, dew point, wind, barometric pressure, visibility and ceiling height below 12,000 feet.
Later he visited the weather service cooperative station in Edgartown. Currently managed by this writer, the weather station has a rich history going back 62 years. It was started by the late Vineyard Gazette publishers Henry Beetle Hough and his wife Betty in the backyard of their Edgartown home. Mr. Hough managed the station until 1982. He died in 1985.
Among other things, Mr. Dunham came to inspect and calibrate a universal rain gauge, a device that precisely measures precipitation and time of day when it falls. The site hosts one other rain gauge plus equipment to measure maximum and minimum temperature. Data is collected daily. Summaries of the weather are published weekly in the Gazette; monthly summaries are sent to Taunton. Monthly summaries are also sent to a climate center at Cornell University in New York state and to the Office of Water Resources under the state Department of Conservation and Recreation in Boston.
Mr. Dunham said there are three cooperative stations on Cape Cod. Years ago Nantucket had a cooperative station, but it stopped due to lack of interest. Automated weather stations are located at four airports in the region: Provincetown, Chatham, Hyannis and Otis.
“A lot of the data collected from the cooperative stations is used for climate research,” Mr. Dunham said. Continuity in the gathering of this data over long periods of time is helpful in evaluating climate change, he said.
“We keep doing inspections of these sites to make sure they don’t suffer from expanding urban sprawl,” he added.
While they provide vital weather information for aviation, airports are not good natural environments for collecting weather data, Mr. Dunham explained. And airport weather data is not archived the way it is at the cooperative stations.
Despite so many advances in technology today, automated weather stations still have difficulty recording precipitation precisely, especially snow and ice.
“The beautiful thing about cooperative weather stations is that there has been no change in the equipment,” Mr. Dunham said. There are 75 cooperative weather stations throughout southern New England.
Meteorologists and climatologists aren’t the only ones who use the data from cooperative weather stations. The insurance industry relies on information gathered from the stations for trends and for noting weather events. For example, the data is often called up when there is a significant weather event that damages a home.
As he made his rounds, Mr. Dunham recalled many fond memories of his uncle, who was a well-known figure on the Vineyard in his role as a district engineer for the Cape and Vineyard Electric Company and later as regional supervisor for Commonwealth Electric. He was also a Tisbury selectman.
“I can recall my Uncle David and my father going out to dinner with their father, my grandfather Roswell Dunham at Mattapoisett. I was seven or eight years old. I remember them going out to dinner together and singing,” Mr. Dunham said.