Out you go

I’ve got a great idea for a family-friendly activity, or one you can do all by yourself: a six-day weather diary. And after day six, who knows? It might just turn into something you enjoy doing, and start doing regularly. 


I am suggesting this to help rebuild that which is being lost in this go-go-go era. Screens and apps and everything else have led to many people “losing” their power of observation, and therefore missing out on the astounding beauty of light and landscape.

Here’s a suggestion for how you can start your weather diary, while restoring your powers of observation. Below is a modified version of what I have my UMPI students do. They do it for five straight weeks. We’re just doing it for six days. You can do as little or as much as you want. 

Just follow these instructions: Observe and record your observations on Day 1. On Day 2, formally write out the previous day’s observations and record Day 2 observations, and so on, until you end on Day 6 by writing out Day 5 observations.

The reason we need to wait until the following day to “formally” write out our observations (how to observe is explained below) is that the daily climate report is not released until after midnight — after the climate day has concluded.

Let’s get started. On Day 1, as you go about your day, jot down (or record on your phone) descriptive notes, which might include things like: “It’s warm. I didn’t need my coat at lunchtime.” Then, perhaps a bit later that day, you might write (or record), “The snow banks are pulling away from the sidewalks, and the grass against some of the buildings is even turning green.” These are just a couple of examples that would give someone a glimpse into the “weather character” of the day, as compared to just writing down a simple daily high temperature. 

Try to “feel” the weather as you go about your day, almost like an article of clothing. Be attentive to it and observe the sky. Describe what you see. Listen to the sounds.  Look all around. Notice everything. Try to give a person who might be reading your account 50 years from now a good sense of what the day was like. What caught your eye? Did you hear dripping water? Did you see water running, perhaps carving a channel in the ice? Write that down. Anything and everything is “fair game.”

Here’s an entry I made last year:  “Even though it is late September, it still feels very warm and humid, and towering cumulus clouds actually make it look like mid-summer! Even though there is some color showing up in the trees, it sure doesn’t feel like the start of Fall is just two days away!” 

There are any number of things that you can write, and they all come from your observations, and your description of your journey through the weather day. You can note birds, runoff, huge puddles, sun strength, diminishing (or possibly increasing) snowbanks, the way the sky looked, the way the light looked.  

You will need the internet if you want to do the next thing we do in class. 

Here’s what you need to do the day after your first day of observations, and here’s how to get the data you will need. Google: “NWS CAR CLI.” Click on the top on the resultant list. Once there, the only thing you have to change is in column 2, where you change “Bangor” to “Caribou,” then click Go. 

The previous day’s data is usually released between 12:45 and 1:30 a.m. 

Write the previous day’s full date at the top of the page in your notebook. Then get the following climate data from the NWS Caribou website for the previous day. The site is easy to use and you will be able to easily find what you are looking for. If not, get in touch with me and I will walk you through it. Write it down in this format:  

1) High temperature and the time it occurred.  

2) Average high for the date

3) Record high for the date

4) Low temperature and the time it occurred

5) Average low for the date

6) Record low for the date

7) Highest wind speed and direction

8) Precipitation (rain and/or melted snow)

9) Snow (if any)

Underneath this, write out your observation notes from the previous day, and compare them to the averages for the day you chronicled. This will tell you whether the day you described was typical for that time of year or not.

Give it a shot and modify it as you wish. The main thing is to get out there and start taking it all in.  

For those who wish to get their numbers from that website on the same day as their observations, a preliminary climate report for the day is usually out by 4:30 p.m.

If you find it difficult to get outdoors, let me offer an alternative way to enjoy the wonders of our area. Check out the marvelous amateur photography on the Just Looking Around Facebook Page.  

I hope this column planted the seeds for a few new weather/nature hobbyists.

Ted Shapiro holds the Broadcast Seal of Approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. An Alexandria, Virginia native, he has been chief meteorologist at WAGM-TV since 2006. Email him at tshapiro@wagmtv.com.

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