Weather watchers have enjoyed their work for 30 years

  • Mar. 21, 2003 5:00 a.m.

By Peter Vogan–Nothing beats Haida Gwaii weather as the number one guarantee of effortless and enjoyable conflabs no matter where your daily wanderings take you.
No other subject provides as much grist for chatter as Mother Nature’s latest effort to put mankind in its rightful place in the scheme of things.
That is why it is a bit ironic that despite more than 30 years of meticulously observing and recording island weather out of his Tlell area home, long-time resident John Davies does not often seek chatty conversations about the weather.
Which is a bit surprising for someone who has emerged more than 22,000 times from his house to record precise weather information using an impressive set of scientific rain and air temperature gauges on his front lawn overlooking Hecate Strait.
But lest one confuses reticence with rudeness, let it be known that Mr. Davies is a most pleasant person with a great sense of humor, but when it comes to the subject of weather he would rather observe it than talk about it.
All you have to do is take one glance at the annual data entry books John has meticulously amassed during three decades of twice-daily observations to confirm that Mr. Davies (pronounced Davis) and his wife Jennifer find observing and measuring whatever weather has occurred in their little corner of the world a rewarding and most interesting personal experience!
The Davies’ interest in weather observation likely began when the couple, fresh from England, spent their first year in Canada at an obscure teaching station on the BC coast south of Prince Rupert where, as Jennifer recalls, they were inundated with rain.
“We set up our first rain gauge to see just how much precipitation was falling,” she recalls. “One day we collected five and three/quarter inches in 24 hours!”
Their interest heightened when they moved to the Charlottes in 1965 to another rainy climate and the final step occurred shortly after moving to Tlell a few years later when they heard the Canadian government was looking for someone interested in taking on weather data collection duties from long-time resident Doug Leach,who in turn had relieved May and Stan Newcombe working out of the historic Dunes Fishing Club at Tlell.
Soon afterward, the Davies moved themselves and the observation station from Clay Hill to its present location below Tlell on a scalloped shoreline known as Southeast Harbour.
Each day, once in the morning and once in the later afternoon, the precipitation and temperature checks were carried out for more than two decades until late in 1999 when the official duties of weather observations were ceded to a local resident who had expressed interest in continuing official observations for Environment Canada.
But the Davies did not lose interest in the weather nor in data collection and decided to continue what was now a mild and pleasant habit.
They continue to do it, John explains, because they were comfortably accustomed to the process which proves in no way to be a burden but rather a fond and personally rewarding activity too difficult to abandon after all these years.
And that is why, thanks to their steadfast efforts, all islanders share weekly in the fruits of their faithful observations when they open the Observer to page six and peruse the data outlining the Tlell Station temperature highs and lows and precipitation readings for the past week and month.
As for the record books, they will remain in safe hands, not necessarily for antiquity but because of what John laughingly claims to be the real reason they have not abandoned the weather watch.
“I like numbers!,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes. “I get great satisfaction in gleaning the information and tallying and working the data”.
“It (the data) may seem quite useless at first glance. They are, after all, just figures, jotted down one after the other, day after day, month after month.”
“But it is when they are taken as a whole and compared to each other that they make sense.”
Someday he is sure they will be useful in forming an interesting, perhaps even valuable basis for seasonal or annual comparisons.
Each number in his data logs represents a visit to the two odd-looking pieces of meteorological equipment located on the beachward side of his property.
One slim container planted in the ground near the edge of the eroding bluff (it’s been moved a time or two over the years) is a rain gauge that can measure even the most daunting downpour.
The most precipitation he has ever recorded, he says, was in 1983 when 1,491 mm fell on the Charlottes – 1,480.3 mm of rainfall with 11.6 mm dropping as snow.
If one broke down the total precip into rain and snow, the champion of all years was 1972, the second year John began recording data. That year, islanders were treated to the lowest ever recorded rainfall of 835.2 mm but suffered the mother of all snowy winters when 201.9 centimeters of the white stuff fell from the skies.
Stats like this explain why “if we meet someone in the grocery store, there is every chance they will comment about a recent rainfall, or sunny period or hot spell or cold spell.”
After jotting down the accumulated precipitation, John moves over to a white box perched on a sturdy pedestal. Louvered on all four sides, it is, he explains, a “Stevenson Screen” which allows two special thermometers inside to record data undisturbed by direct sunlight.
Opening the north-facing door, so that sunlight cannot strike and thus warm up the instruments, John carefully reads and records data from the topmost of two impressive scientific thermometers which is designed to record only daily high and low temperatures
The lower thermometer, slightly different in style, keeps a record of the highest temperature reached that day. Once read , the thermometer is swung vigorously to re-set the indicator to the current temperature level.
Back in his kitchen at the conclusion of each day, John pulls out the record books and jots down the particulars of that day’s readings, working out the fun details such as maximum and minimums and mean temperatures, as well as precipitation readings.
Each bit of data is recorded in a careful, fastidious and precise manner in a ritual that reflects the mathematical growth rings of island weather spanning the past three decades.
At the end of each month he adds up all the daily data and eventually, as the year ends, compiles an annual conclusion.
One statistic John does not keep is windspeed, simply because he was never asked to. He and Jennifer have experienced many sorts of intensities of wind and still talk in wonder of fierce blow that flipped “our first class Stevenson Screen” off its moorings in October of 1984. “That must have been,” he says with a tinge of awe, “some sort of record!”
And thus it goes, a simple schedule not really any more onerous than cooking daily meals. It has gone on long enough, the Davies say, that the process is virtually unobtrusive and never really a bother. The only time they have missed doing this process they admit with a faint sense of chagrin, is when they left the Misty Isles for a two week period for their daughter’s wedding.
“A neighbor took the readings and did a fine job,” John says in a tone that reflects a quiet pride in their years of observing.
Their endeavours – never to be thought of in terms of obligation but rather enjoyable routine – may someday end but that day will come by choice when they are ready. Until then, the Davies are quite content to continue a habit that gives them both great pleasure.
And besides, it’s kind of neat to keep a close eye on every hiccup of rain and snow and warm and cold because when it comes to the topic of weather, John grins, “you can bet there is always some out there” interesting enough to start a conversation.