Harlan Thrailkill is now on his third weather station.
He’s spent the last 20 years using a weather station, as well as a rain gauge, to track rainfall, temperature, and wind speed and direction at his home.
Now, Thrailkill’s observations will help local weather forecasts. He’s one of eight new members of the team of weather watcher volunteers that guide hyperlocal weather forecasts on WVLG 102.7 FM, 104.5 FM & 640 AM.
Their activities make a difference in Villagers planning their days, especially in times of extreme hot or cold temperatures and stormy weather.
“Usually I look at (weather data) first thing in the morning when I’m eating breakfast,” said Thrailkill, of the Village of Pine Ridge. “I’ll look for patterns and try to find extremes.”
The radio station serving The Villages has about 50 active weather watchers whose observations about weather phenomena guide daily forecasts from Dave Towle and Jerry Del Castillo, as well as Towle’s monthly climatological reports.
Their most significant contribution is their report of measurable rainfall, tracked by rain gauges at their residences. But some also have weather stations or digital lightning detectors that aid their observations.
Adding the new weather watchers helps expand coverage in North and South neighborhoods, said Towle, WVLG’s senior forecaster.
The late WVLG staff meteorologist Karl Loeper founded the weather watcher group in 2005. Loeper, who died in 2018, had a goal of each village having at least one weather watcher.
Both Loeper and his successor, Towle, noticed the National Weather Service’s forecasts often overlooked the variation in conditions throughout the community. It’s worth noting both once worked for the weather service.
“Those folks are forecasting technically for Tampa and extrude it out to see what’s happening in other locations,” Towle said. “We being in Central Florida, things happen differently here. We can have different wind patterns and wind speeds from what Tampa says.”
What Loeper started with the weather watchers, and Towle continues today, aims to enhance WVLG’s daily, monthly and annual reports with observations from as many villages as possible.
Towle sees the weather watchers’ data as a form of accountability for his own forecast observations.
“I’m getting qualification of what really took place, and it makes me realize, ‘Do I need to change the way I forecast?’” he said.
The variability in rainfall in the community — the factor considered overlooked in weather service forecasts — is often what inspires weather watchers to take an interest.
Nick DiGiore is one of them. He’s had a habit of asking friends and neighbors with rain gauges about the amount of rain they recorded.
“I’m always interested in how much rain we have and how much wind we have,” said DiGiore, of the Village of Belle Aire.
Weather watchers take an interest in helping with the forecasts, knowing their information may guide how Villagers plan their days.
Those observations also help the volunteers themselves when they have outdoor activities happening.
“I facilitate a water aerobics class,” DiGiore said. “When it’s 2 p.m., we’re ruled by the thunderstorms that come by. And that’s the time of day the thunderstorms are kicking up.”
Senior writer Michael Salerno can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or firstname.lastname@example.org.