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Barrow weather station staff worry about becoming obsolete

  • Author: Kamala Kelkar
  • Updated: July 7, 2016
  • Published September 25, 2015

BARROW -- It's exactly 3 p.m. on Tuesday and meteorological technician Ziggy Boytor is releasing a balloon with a monitor transmitting a swath of climate data from the northernmost town in the U.S. to the rest of the world.

Boytor and his colleagues do this every day, every 12 hours, in sync with 91 other stations across the country for the National Weather Service. There are 13 stations in Alaska. Barrow is one of just two above the Arctic Circle; the other is in Kotzebue. The data have been used since the 1950s by other scientists to make forecasts, identify trends and create models having to do with everything from the rate of sea ice melt, trajectory of storms and overall climate.
But times are changing, technology is advancing and the technicians here are worried the apparatus that requires a physical presence at the Barrow station -- the balloon -- may become a thing of the past.
“They’re planning to replace it with a machine … there’s one in Kodiak,” he said. “The machine could replace us.”
Though he believes it’s not yet advanced enough to stand the strong winds of the Arctic.
There’s another machine on the ground in Barrow that monitors temperatures and other real-time climate data such as visibility and wind speed to add to records dating back to the early 1900s. This year, temperatures have flip-flopped; May and June were the hottest they have ever been, while every month since then has been below normal.
“I don’t know that you can draw any conclusions from the air temperatures,” said Rich Lomire, another meteorological technician at the station. “We just record.”
Lomire, who remembers entering data into mini-computers when he first worked for the weather service 35 years ago also feels threatened by newer technology.
“An automated launch could put us out of business,” he said.