Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Turns Out You DO Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

"To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring."
—George Santayana


Think you know what the weather is going to be like in Granada Hills, just because you saw it on the local news? Think again.

"What a lot of people don't realize is that the weather that you see on television and radio stations, it's not really Granada Hills weather. It's taken from Van Nuys Airport," explains Tom Tcimpidis, Granada Hills' chief weather guru — or weather geek — take your pick.

"As you can tell he's really into the weather. He loves it!" says Tom's wife, Linda.

Google "Granada Hills weather," and you'll find The Tom and Linda Tcimpidis Weather Page, a pet project of Tom's that's been online since 2001, providing data so accurate it's used to verify the integrity of other stations.

"Basically, it's a hobby," Tom says. "I've been interested in weather since I was a kid. When I was about 10 I built my first weather station, and I put it up on the roof when I lived on Long Island. Being a boater and being a pilot and being in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, weather is naturally important to all of those kinds of things, so it's natural to be involved in. Plus they're just toys. I have an interest in that, and anything that's technical."

Tom's prowess with all things technical has even won him awards.

"Show her your Emmys," Linda says, to which Tom grins and shrugs and leads me to the living room. There sit three gleaming award statuettes, for Tom's behind-the-scenes work in film and television, including a nine-year stint on Night Court.

The home weather station that sits on the Tcimpidis' rooftop is also something of an overachiever; the setup that Tom describes as a "hobby" is actually relied upon to provide data to a half-dozen or more agencies, including the National Weather Service and the National Oceanographic Administration. And if you get your local weather reports from the web site Weather Underground, you're really seeing data from the Tcimpidis' station.

Tom isn't paid for providing the data, but when one of his systems goes down, his phone will start to ring. During the Station Fire, when one of his sensors became clogged with ash, he had to climb atop the roof to clear it at the first possible opportunity, because people were relying on that data.

"During the fires, there were several groups calling the National Weather Service and tracking the ash clouds, so they're interested in what the micro climate is doing. So they were actually monitoring my station for additional data, so the fire department knows what to expect."

Should you be lucky enough to find yourself at the Tcimpidis home during, say, an earthquake, or any other emergency, you'd be in good hands. Linda is an EMT who teaches first aid and CPR, and one of Tom's other high-tech toys is a Ham radio; that means that if the phones were overloaded and the power went out, you'd still be able to get messages through — not only because Tom could hook up his radio to a 12 volt car battery, but because the room that houses the Tcimpidis' computers is on an uninterruptable power supply.

"A few years ago were were having some power issues, and every six months the power would go out for an day or a day and a half," Linda says. "I came home one night and he's madly running cables — I thought he was going to plug in the refrigerator, but no — he's plugging in the computers! The computers take first priority in this house!"

When I ask to take a picture of his weather equipment, Tom explains that it would be difficult. "It consists of bits and pieces all over, so there really isn't' a good picture of all the stuff. The server for it's down there, and the console for it is over here, more of the guts are on the roof, and it talks to this wirelessly. Up on the roof is the range sensor, the wind speed and direction sensor, humidity sensor, temperature sensor, ultraviolet sensor, solar sensor. There's also a sensor on the pool. I did it why? Because I could!"

Tom saves all of the data he's collected from his station, which has come in handy on more than one occasion. "I've gotten some interesting requests from people over the years. About a year ago I got an email from an attorney who was doing an auto accident investigation, and he wanted do know all the weather conditions on a particular time and particular day. I've also gotten a few requests from people doing research on the dump, wanting to know on such and such day and such and such time how strong was the wind blowing."

At this mention of Sunshine Canyon, Linda interjects, "By the way, they hate it when you call it the dump, so I call it the dump all of the time. At a meeting I went to, they said, 'Don't call it a dump.' And I'm like, 'Why not, it's a dump!'"

I ask Tom if it's my imagination, or was this May colder than usual? As an answer, he promptly provides me with a chart comparing temperature data from May of 2010 to temperatures from 2009. It's not my imagination. Via email, he tells me,

As far as the May temperatures are concerned, on average – with the exception of the last two days when it HAS been colder – it has actually been slightly warmer than the statistical average. However, the wind has also been stronger than the average for most of the month so that might make it FEEL colder than usual (wind chill).

which is far more information than the simple "yes" or "no" that I foolishly expected.

Tcimpidis' web site, I learn with a tinge of envy, gets a heck of a lot more traffic than mine does; "When we had the real heavy rain, the hits go from four or five hundred a day to four or five thousand. I get them from all over the country, all over the world. I assume it's people who've lived here or have friends here, just curious what's going on at home." The site has actually had more than 147,000 unique visitors.

"There are a lot of weather nerds out there!" Linda laughs.

He's got the only weather station online in Granada Hills, the National Weather Service and Weather Underground rely on his data, and his hobby actually provides useful information to a large number of people. That must be a point of pride, isn't it?

Tom shrugs again and just says, "It's fun."

10 comments:

  1. Nice article! Tom and Linda certainly seem to be the go-to people for weather in Granada Hills!

    One question: I notice a picture of what I assume is one of the weather system consoles in the story. On it is an entry for THSW in degrees. What is that? I also notice he measures the local U.V. Index and amount of solar energy in watts, which is pretty cool.

    Ron

    P.S. For those who might like to know, the direct link to his system is http://www.ghweather.org

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  2. The THSW Index is a measure of the combined affect of the temperature, humidity, solar radiation level (sun intensity), and the wind speed. It gives you an effective temperature of what it feels like if you were standing out in the open.

    This differs from the Heat Index (sometimes called "Feels Like" or Humidex) which only takes in to account temperature and humidity, and gives an effective temperature of what it feels like in the shade with no wind.

    -Tom

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  3. I am one of those "expatriots" who keeps up on Granada Hills in part through Tom's Weather Pages. In fact, I just found this blog through a link he posted there about this story.

    One of the fun things I like to do - it kind of makes me think I am actually still living there - is to use his live weather feature. It updates every 3 seconds and is like being in Granada Hills, being a voyeur, and watching his weather station from his house.

    The link for it is http://tinyurl.com/rapidwx

    Thanks for the fun article!

    Emile

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  4. I loved the letter from the Night Court Producers about Tom's Emmy nomination! VERY funny stuff!

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  5. Pointless anonymous nastiness will be deleted from this page.

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    Replies
    1. God forbid if you do not agree with it or it doesn't paint a beautiful bright picture of you, you will delete it

      Delete
    2. Yep, and I will continue to delete messages from any anonymous troll who is hurling pointless insults at the Tcimpidises.

      Delete
  6. Hi Tom,

    I saw a link to this blog when I was goggling your weather station. Very nice article!

    Thanks for being a volunteer weather-spotter for the NWS. We depend on reports like yours to give us a better picture of the micro-climate and for public safety.

    Regards,
    John

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  7. Just saw the short article in the Old Granada Hills Newsletter, which in turn led me to Tom's weather website and this article. Wow! Tom certainly has everyone else in Granada Hills - and maybe even the entire Valley - scooped when it comes to the weather, weather presentation, and weather statistics! VERY impressive!

    Note the direct link to his weather station website is www.ghweather.org. Much easier to type than what was given in the OGHRE newsletter...

    Bob

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  8. I love that Tom even has their pool temperature on the website!!!

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