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18 October 2008

Backyard weather observer honored for 26 years of non-stop dedication

How is this for dedication, devotion and service to the community?

NORTH TONAWANDA — The award that Jack Kanack won for 26 years of writing reports about the weather in his own backyard — from this week’s easy-to-track blue skies to hail that he has kept in a bag in the freezer — pleased him for its big size, frame and glass that he tapped with satisfaction.

“I do this for 26 years, and nobody pays attention,” he said as he walked from his North Tonawanda weather station by the pool and raspberry bushes to the basement where he keeps his weather records in three rows of file cabinets, five drawers high.

“All of a sudden it’s like, ‘Wow — I got a wooden frame, and it’s glass,’ ” he said. “I’m recognized for what I love doing. That’s pretty neat.”

The National Weather Service presented him Wednesday the John Campanius Holm Award, which went to 25 people this year in recognition of their dedication among the nation’s approximately 11,700 volunteers known as “cooperative observers.”

“He’s in very select company,” said Thomas Niziol, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office for Western New York on Aero Drive, near Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga. “He never missed one observation — not one day.”

“When the weather gets bad, most people head inside,” said Niziol, who took Kanack out to lunch after presenting the award at the North Tonawanda house Kanack shares with his parents. “When you’re a weather observer, you head outside.”

Kanack, 47, recalled an August dinner with his parents that was interrupted by a clatter on the roof.

“Wow! I think we got hail!” Kanack said, leaving the table.

“What drives them crazy is I run my life around the weather,” he said, opening the freezer and pulling out a bag containing the hail he collected that night.

Kanack used his marblesized souvenirs to show how the Weather Service sizes up hail.

He scattered change on the kitchen table and set the hail atop coins until he found the right fit — a penny. He also sliced one open to count the ice layers — three. The layers, he said, show the number of times hail goes up and down in a cloud before falling to the ground.

When the hail was fresh, it was the size of a quarter — which he dutifully reported to the Weather Service. The agency then issued a warning of severe thunderstorms and hail. That warning ended up as a crawler on the television screens of Western New Yorkers.

“My report got the ball rolling,” said Kanack, who received a degree in geoscience from Buffalo State College.

His observations — assembled in notes over the course of a half-hour daily — help the Weather Service keep accurate records. Although official stations are located near the airport, as well as in Niagara Falls and Rochester, local weather varies so much that the Weather Service meteorologists rely on volunteers such as Kanack to fill in the gaps and build a national weather database.

“That information is vital to us in understanding how our weather is changing,” Niziol said.

To assemble his weather chronicle, Kanack stays up until midnight to check the final high and low temperatures for the day . The temperatures register on Weather Service thermometers he keeps in a locked cabinet near a metal tube that collects rainfall for measuring.

“I won’t lock the car,” he said, “but I’ll lock the station.”

Dean Aschenbrenner, a friend and fellow weather-reporting volunteer who joined him for the celebratory hamburger lunch, joked that Kanack’s safe neighborhood near the Erie Canal may have inspired his passion.

“Nothing happens here,” Kanack said.

“Except the weather,” Aschenbrenner quipped.

Article: The Buffalo News