Where do you want to fly?
Watching the weather once worried Hagerstown’s Greg Keefer.
This week, it earned him a national honor.
“When I was a kid, I used to hide in the closet when the thunderstorms came up or the wind got high. … But now I stand out in the storms and wait for the wind to get high,” Keefer said with a laugh.
For more than four decades, Keefer has been a National Weather Service cooperative weather observer. He’s among more than 10,000 volunteer observers across the country who track information such as local temperatures and precipitation.
The observers send those numbers to the weather service. The statistics help meteorologists draw up forecasts and analyze the climate of given areas.
“It’s not just the day-to-day,” said Chris Strong, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “It’s the long-term change as well.”
On Tuesday, Strong visited Keefer’s Hagerstown home to present him with the Dick Hagemeyer Award “for serving 45 or more years as a cooperative weather observer.”
“I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for all you do for us,” Strong told Keefer as the two men sat on the couch in Keefer’s living room.
As they sat, Strong and Keefer also talked a bit about the weather. Among other things, both have noticed that night-time low temperatures are higher than they used to be, while summers are getting hotter overall. They also talked about some memorable weather events, such as the flooding in 1996 and a winter storm in 1993.
“It was almost a true blizzard here,” Keefer said of the 1993 storm.
They also took time to check out the weather-related gadgets that Keefer has set up in his backyard and on the roof of his house.
“I think I’ve put about five rain gauges out there,” Keefer said. “I’ve got backups to backups to backups.”
In the house, tucked into a corner of a basement room, sits a computer that Keefer uses to track the stats and transmit them to the NWS.
“We used to send them written reports,” he recalled. “(We would) mail them in.”
Since 1997, Keefer also has maintained a website, i4weather.net. The site reports forecasts and historical weather information for this region.
That basement room also houses a few vintage weather instruments, such as barometers and thermometers. Keefer said he used to have more, but he sold some over the years.
Keefer, 64, and his wife, Peggy, both retired after careers with the Washington County Board of Education. Greg Keefer, who worked as a printer, has been retired nearly 10 years.
He said the Washington County schools, specifically a weather course at the old North Potomac Junior High School, “triggered my interest in weather.”
For a project in a junior high course about the weather, Keefer got to build a weather vane, which tracks wind direction, and an anemometer, which measures wind speed.
Later he began to build and buy more sophisticated instruments. Finally, in about 1970, he took more official footing by building an instrument shelter from scratch, using NWS measurements. He also bought an official set of thermometers and made a rain gauge to meet NWS specifications.
“I started on my own in 1970. I bought my own equipment and just started keeping track of the weather on a daily basis,” he said.
He has modified the setup and changed some equipment since those days.
Keefer said he took the cooperative weather observer role following the death of Lawson Wolfinger, who had served in that capacity. He said he wrote to Wolfinger’s son, who sent him the area’s weather records dating to 1898.
“Then I wrote to the National Weather Service and asked if I could be an observer for them,” he said.
In the years since, the variety of Western Maryland’s weather has held his interest.
“I mean, you just never know what it’s going to do, from one thing to the next,” Keefer said. “Even if the forecasts are wrong, that makes it interesting.”
That being said, he acknowledged that tranquil times are not the most interesting for dedicated weather observers.
“I hate sunny days,” he said with a laugh.