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Terra Alta weather legend keeps climate data honest

Preston County News & Journal photo by John Dahlia Charles Tembly proudly shows off his automated rain gauge system in his backyard.
Preston County News & Journal photo by John Dahlia
Charles Tembly proudly shows off his automated rain gauge system in his backyard.

TERRA ALTA, W.Va. — Every morning, since the early 1970s, it’s been the same routine for Charlie Trembly. After breakfast and perhaps a kind word or two with Bertie, his beloved wife of 30 years, Charlie heads to his basement office where he records and submits rain and temperature data to the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

“I have it right in my schedule,” Charlie explained. “Right when I get the current temperature and precipitation information I call the computer.”

That “computer” Charlie referred to is the automated system weather observers in the Pittsburgh NWS area use to input new data.

“First I have to put in my station number,” Charlie explained. “Then I punch in the present temperature. Then I have to put in the high temperature from the day before.”

It’s clearly a tedious process very few folks would have the interest or even patience to do on a consistent basis. But not Charlie. He thoroughly enjoys what he calls a hobby that you could say is in his blood.

Charlie is a second generation weather observer. His father, Charles Edward Trembly recorded Terra Alta’s climate data back in the 1950s. Charles Edward was certainly known as a community leader of the day. He was president of the old Terra Alta Bank and also had his own insurance business. So, as Charlie put it, his dad was a perfect recruit.

“He’s the one that liked the real detail record keeping work,” Charlie said of his dad. “He showed me what to do and then I got into it.”

His father recorded the local climate data each day up until his death in the early 1970s.

“It was sort of a tradition for me to take over where he left off,” he said.

He’s kept the records on some massive storms including the devastating floods of 1985, the big snow storm in 1977 and the very recent Winter Storm Jonas that hit the region last January.

“The big storm was the 22nd and 23rd where we got 28, 29 and then 37 inches,” he said, reading the specific numbers he recorded when the storm hit. “So that was that storm.”

Charlie’s effort has not gone unnoticed by the NWS. It installed some rather sophisticated weather monitoring equipment right on his Terra Alta backyard for him to use.

“When I have a problem I talk to Mr. Coblentz,” Charlie added. “He’s the one who knows me by my first name.”

Charlie’s “Mr. Coblentz” is Bob Coblentz, NWS Observations Program Leader. He’s been in that role up in the Pittsburgh NWS office for the last 21 years and manages a network of weather observers in 36 counties spread out across North Central West Virginia, Southern Pennsylvania and Garrett County, Maryland.

“I have about 114 observers I work with right now,” Coblentz said. “Charlie is by far in my top five. He rarely misses an observation.”

The observation program Coblentz leads is actually called the NWS Cooperative Observer Program, better known as COOP. According to the COOP program website, there are more than 8,700 volunteers across the nation who take observations on farms, in urban and suburban areas, National Parks, seashores, mountaintops, and even in Charlie’s backyard in Terra Alta.

 “He’s one of the great observers who provides us with consistent critical data,” Coblentz said.

On any given day, Charlie’s precipitation data is closely looked by the NWS Ohio River Forecast Center.

“He’s basically a hydro station,” Coblentz said of Charlie’s Terra Alta observation equipment. “The location (Terra Alta) is important because of the elevation and proximity to the Cheat River area.”

But what really gets Charlie and his friends at the NWS in Pittsburgh fired up is the snow.

“I know he’s passionate about his snow measurements,” Coblentz said of Charlie’s snow observations.

Charlie has become the local expert when it comes to giving out accurate details on snow fall totals.

“Look how many years I’ve been doing it,” Charlie admitted. “I always get calls from farmers and people from the newspaper and the radio and TV stations asking me about snow amounts.”

Today, as Charlie is getting ready to celebrate his 80th birthday, his son John Trembly might very well be next in the long line of Tremblys charged with the task of recording Terra Alta’s weather. But not just yet.

“I don’t know what the plan is,” Charlie said. “We’ll see how the Lord leads and see what he wants me to do.”

To see more from The Preston County News & Journal, click here. http://www.theet.com/prestoncountyjournal/

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