December 8, 2013

Former Franklin County Sheriff marks time as national weather observer in Farmington

Dennis Pike, 75, has been a weather service observer for 47 years.

By Kaitlin Schroeder
Staff Writer

With a Nation Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration patch pinned over a sheriff’s department logo on his sweatshirt, former Franklin County Sheriff Dennis Pike opened the hatch to the worn box that holds his weather measurement tools and checked a thermometer for the day’s lowest temperature.

click image to enlarge

CHECKING IT TWICE: Dennis Pike explains how he monitors weather conditions including the high and low temperatures from thermometers inside this container each day of the year at his home in Farmington. For decades Pike has recorded weather factors for NOAA, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

RECORD KEEPER: Dennis Pike sets up a precipitation collector at his home in Farmington where he records weather conditions for NOAA, National Oceanic Atmosheric Administration.

Staff photo by David Leaming

After reading the information in the small box on stilts housing meteorological instruments, Pike trudged back across his snow-covered yard to write down the information.

Pike, 75, has taken these measurements three times a day for the past 47 years, ever since he became a volunteer for the weather administration the same year he entered law enforcement.

He’s the most recent Farmington weather observer in an unbroken chain of observers and data that dates back to 1881, nearly a decade before a government weather observation program existed.

His wife, Sheila, traditionally records the morning observations and he does the second reading in the afternoon. If it’s raining or snowing, he’ll measure the weather every six hours.

The readings have gotten easier in recent years, Pike said, because of digital equipment that allows him to record information while indoors, though he still has analog equipment outdoors to test its accuracy against digital equipment and to show curious visitors.

The third reading of the day, he said, happens at midnight; and afterward, the data from the last 24 hours is sent online, generally before 2 a.m.

“Though I don’t go to bed just yet, because then I have to have some lunch and maybe watch some CNN,” he said.

Pike is part of a national program of 11,000 trained observers who three times a day collect meteorological data for the National Weather Service. According to the service, data gathered by the observers is used to track climate change, forecast the weather and help local officials manage water resources. It also serves as evidence in billions of dollars worth of lawsuits annually.

Pike said his time-consuming volunteer work has never interfered with his law enforcement career. In fact, he said it often helped; and the more he learned about weather, the more he learned weather data could be used not just in investigating weather-related accidents but in nearly every type of case, including burglaries and major crimes such as homicides.

“It was a great asset,” he said. “In just about every type of criminal act, weather can be an essential and helpful part of prosecution. It was just real handy to have someone on the inside that had this information.”

Pike still will supply the weather information for cases, though attorneys tend to check the information online instead of calling him as they did in the 1970s.

“The prosecuting attorneys and the defense attorneys think maybe there’s something in the weather that can be used as a defense,” he said.

He recalled a burglary case in which his information settled a debate in favor of the state.

“The witness said, ‘Yes I did see him. I did recognize this individual. The moon was full and it was bright.’ And the defense said it was cloudy. Guess who broke the deadlock?”

Along with helping law enforcement, a handful of snowplow drivers call Pike after every winter to make sure they are billing on days that it snowed. In the days following Christmas, he traditionally is called to help a few residents work their newly received barometers, which are devices that measure changes in air pressure used to predict weather patterns.

Pike said he also started getting calls in the last decade asking about wind velocity and whether a private windmill would be a good investment.

(Continued on page 2)

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