Sunday, February 20, 2005

Some call for Granite State weather office

By Jason Schreiber
Staff writer

New Hampshire is known for its scenic beauty, but forecasting the weather here can be ugly.

Predicting Mother Nature's next move is never an easy job, especially in a place such as New Hampshire, where the mountains, lakes and ocean create a potpourri of weather that can change dramatically from one town to the next.

In an area with such a varied climate, some say it only makes sense for the state to have its own National Weather Service office.

"New Hampshire is a very diverse state in terms of our population centers, our topography, and the different kinds of weather we see in the state," said David Brown, state climatologist and assistant professor of geography at the University of New Hampshire.

Brown is among those who believe the state would be better off with a forecasting office to better focus attention here, rather than relying on National Weather Service offices in Gray, Maine, and Taunton, Mass.

The Taunton office forecasts for Cheshire and Hillsborough counties, while Gray covers Rockingham County and the rest of the state.

While the Gray office has handled winter weather forecasting for much of the state since 1970, New Hampshire once had a weather office in Concord that provided forecasts for severe weather such as thunderstorms, tornadoes and flash flooding.

But that office closed in 2000 after the federal government spent $4.5 billion in the 1990s to modernize its weather offices. Some offices expanded; others closed.

The goal of the modernization plan was to provide better forecasts and warning services, said Albert Wheeler, the meteorologist in charge of the forecasting office in Gray.

But WMUR-TV meteorologist Chris Thomas calls the splitting of New Hampshire between the Gray and Taunton offices a "raw deal."

"Honest to God, there should be a forecast office for just New Hampshire," he said.

Jim van Dongen, public information officer for the state's Bureau of Emergency Management, agrees.

"I think Gray and Taunton do the best they can, but Gray forecasts for a large portion of Maine, so (forecasting for New Hampshire) is always one extra thing for them to do. It would have been better to have our own forecast office and our own radar," he said.

Some say the National Weather Service offices in general have too much on their plate.

Matt Noyes, a meteorologist at Newton, Mass.-based New England Cable News, praised the forecasters in Gray and Taunton for the work they do, but said he thinks the offices are simply overtaxed.

"They're putting out so many products with the same number of staff or, in some cases, fewer staff. They are just significantly overburdened. The government has them trying to do way too much with way too few people," Noyes said.

The Gray office has a 22-member staff, which includes 14 meteorologists, similar to the size of the Taunton office. Wheeler said he thinks the number of the staff in his office, which works with a $2.5 million annual budget, is adequate for the coverage area.

"We don't see state lines in the forecast office," said John Jensenius, Gray's warning coordination meteorologist. "We're really located so that we can provide the best service we can based on radar coverage."

Staff writer Jason Schreiber may be contacted by calling (603) 437-7000 or by e-mailing at jschreiber@eagletribune.com.

 

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