March 22 -25, 1991
Man has an instinctive feel for the weather
Backers find him more accurate the U.S. weather service
By Carolyn Younger
Hills area gardener Richard Hill clipped an invisible leaf from the already tidy hedge on Estates Drive and considered how he knew that last fall that drenching rains were coming in March. "I just felt it," the 78-year-old Louisiana native said. "They had been crying about rain and I said, 'Well, you'll get all you want in March, youíre going to get aplenty."' Hill is a folk hero in the minds of his Estates Drive employers, Virginia and Charles Willson.
"We got to thinking, Richard would tell us it was going to rain on such and such a date, and it would," said Virginia Willson. "All of a sudden we realized that he was better than the weather forecasters on TV." "It's true," said Charles Willson. "It has been that way for years but we didn't pay attention at first. It has really been noticeable during the drought."
Hill, who grew up in Monroe, Louisiana, was born into a family with an affinity for water. Both Hill's grandfather and uncle had a reputation as water diviners. The knowledge was passed on to Hill as a youngster, he said. The community raised cotton, corn, peanuts, peas, and greens and the need for water was paramount. At 16, Hill was using a peach tree limb to help people find water to pump into their fields.
"I'd get a forked limb," Hill said. "I don't know if you had to have peach -- in it made a difference or not--but you'd put it like that, just walk, and when you hit the water stream it would pull down."
Peach tree limbs and intuition are a far cry from the state-of-the-art equipment used by the National Weather Service.
To come up with daily and weekly forecasts, the weather service collects data from fixed observation points all over the country and many parts of the world.
These are added to information collected from a geostationary satellite 23,000 miles above the earth, as well as from upper air soundings taken world-wide, said Pete Alesi at the Weather Service office in Redwood City.
All the data of temperature, humidity, air pressure and wind are plotted and arrayed then faxed to weather services offices who put the information into mathematical models.
Four times a day, the data is blended with the local forecasterís experience of the region to come up with short- and long-term weather forecasts.
"The short range forecast is more accurate," Alesi said. "State-of-the-art is 48 hours. After that, accuracy diminishes and we start seeing computerized errors."
Alesi gives credence to experience, but none to "gut feeling," in weather forecasting.
Meteorology is a science," Alesi said. "You take the facts, the prognosis, the experience and blend."
Although forecasts had predicted heavy rain all day, Hill had still shown up for work at his usual 9:21 a.m. time, Charles Willson said.
"He told my wife, "Don't worry about the rain, it's going to be between."
And it was.
(Article contains a picture of Richard Hill trimming hedges.) Caption: Water and gardens have been the stock of Richard Hill's trade for decades. Montclarion/Brian Barton
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