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Lodi firefighters double as meteorologists

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Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2003 10:00 pm

The National Weather Service gets its daily high temperatures in Lodi from equipment set up behind Fire Station No. 3, read not by weather forecasters but by specially trained firefighters.

It's a task undertaken each day between 4:45 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The cooperative agreement between the National Weather Service and the Lodi Fire Department dates back to 1974, when forecasters set up the remote weather station behind Fire Station No. 3 at 2141 S. Ham Lane. It was the same year the station was built.

Special on-site tools measure water levels and wind speed, precipitation, and daily high and low temperatures.

Then, each month, the department mails its figures to the National Weather Service and the state Water Resources Board.

The numbers are also faxed daily to the News-Sentinel for inclusion on its weather page.

Lodi Firefighter Mark Azevedo pours water into the weather station's pool Monday as he keeps on eye on the needle to gauge evaporation during the day. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

"We have a lot of different jobs in the fire service, and this is just one of them," said Fire Capt. Ken Mackey, who has been reading the weather instruments for years.

The equipment at the station includes a 4-foot diameter pond that measures evaporation, an anemometer that measures wind speed, a cylinder that collects precipitation and a little weathered hut that holds two thermometers.

The instruments are built atop a gravel lot surrounded by a short chain-link fence, just like all the other cooperatives across the nation.

National Weather Service representatives, who could not be reached for comment, check the weather station at least every two months to ensure accuracy and perform any necessary maintenance.

Employees will also come to the station to replace any broken parts.

The daily 10- to 15-minute task is taught to new firefighters by veterans.

"It's pretty interesting," said Firefighter Steve Bender, who was hired in 2001. "I like to compare what the news says to what we found."

New firefighter Mark Azevedo, who learned the task in about two shifts, agreed.

"Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy," he said.

Lodi Firefighter Steve Bender checks the temperature as Firefighter Mark Azevedo records the data Monday at the weather station at Fire Station No. 3. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

The weather service's volunteer cooperative observer program was introduced by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, the organization's Web site says.

By 1816, Jefferson had established a network of volunteer weather observers in every county in the state of Virginia.

The network has now grown to more 11,000 stations located at non-airport locations throughout the United States. Cooperative observer data is used in a variety of ways, including climatology, meteorology, agriculture, aviation and research.

Today, the Sacramento office maintains approximately 115 co-op stations recording daily weather information throughout the area including the Sierra Nevada - from the northern portion of Yosemite National Park north to Lassen Volcanic National Park - the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, from Turlock in the south to Redding in the north, and the east side of the coastal ranges, from Lake County north to Whiskeytown Lake.

Firefighters at Lodi's Station No. 3 enjoy their additional daily duty.

"It is a lot of fun what we do," Mackey said. "On a serious note, it teaches the new guys how the weather plays into fire behavior and what to expect when."

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