Predicting Your Weekend Weather

Wonder what the weather will be like this weekend? So do a lot of folks, from airline pilots to surfers. These are the folks who make the forecasts

Friday - March 25, 2005
By Alice Keesing
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One of the good things about being a meteorologist is that when you sit down next to a complete stranger on an airplane, you’re never stuck for something to talk about.

You’re likely to be faced with the opening gambit, “Hasn’t the weather been strange lately?” (Well, what is “normal” weather anyway?)

Or the commentary, “Hasn’t it been wetter than usual?” (Yes, about 150 percent so.)

Occasionally, this one will come out of left field: “So, you study meteors.” (No, meteorologists leave that to the astronomers.)

We all love to talk about the weather, and who better to do it with than those who divine the winds, rain and waves for a living. Luckily the folks at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Honolulu like to talk about the weather, too.

And there has been a lot of it to talk about lately. This winter Hawaii has seen tornados, waterspouts, severe thunderstorms, high winds, flash floods and snow on the summits.

So when you’re sitting next to the meteorologist on the plane, you could really get things warmed up by trying this old line on them, “So what do you do all day? There isn’t much weather in Hawaii.”

Jim Weyman, meteorologist in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather office in Honolulu, laughs at that notion.

Meteorologist Derek Wroe works with digital images
to come up with a forecast

“There is the perception that there is no weather in Hawaii,” he says. “But when the Weather Channel wanted to do a feature on weather and geography, where did they come? Hawaii. We have 10 out of the 13 different climatic zones in the whole world. On the Big Island you can go from rain forest to desert in just 20 miles.”

So, when the meteorologists head into their 12-hour shifts at their UH-Manoa operations center, they don’t have the mantra “light trades and windwardmauka showers” going on auto play in their heads.

Even if it’s beautifully sunny and calm outside on Oahu, things could still be bustling for the four meteorologists on duty.

That’s because the Honolulu forecast office is the largest in the United States. On its shoulders falls responsibility for protecting life and property in Hawaii as well as vast areas of the Pacific.

Every day, 24/7/365, the meteorologists produce the forecasts for the Islands, including coastal waters and airports — information that is used by ranchers, agricultural operators, boat operators, tour companies, golfers, surfers and beach potluckers.

The service’s phone recording gets 1.7 million calls a year — nearly half (750,000) of them from surfers looking for their perfect wave.

As part of its national duties, the Honolulu office keeps tabs on hurricanes in the Pacific as well as aviation and marine conditions.

Then there’s the matter of climate studies, which Weyman calls the thing of the future.

There’s the biggie of global warming, but also events such as El Nino, which can bring drought, big surf and more hurricanes to Hawaii.

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