Weather office gives tour in Caribou

Shawn Bernard (left) and Charles Bernard (right) talk abour the weather Saturday with lead forecaster Joseph Hewitt (seated) of the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Caribou. Buy Photo
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY NICK SAMBIDES JR
Shawn Bernard (left) and Charles Bernard (right) talk abour the weather Saturday with lead forecaster Joseph Hewitt (seated) of the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Caribou. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 30, 2009, at 8:49 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:42 a.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — To Brian Plavnick, the weather used to be left to the local TV news or a graphic in the newspaper, a thumbs-up or thumbs-down read of the next 24 hours’ weather expectations followed by the usual choices — whether to wear a coat or boots, or not.

That changed Saturday.

The 42-year-old Caribou resident was among about 500 people who toured the National Weather Service Forecast Office on Main Street, getting the first public look at the office’s gleaming arrays of flat-screen monitors spread around the office control center since it opened in 1999.

“It was really fascinating,” Plavnick said. “All I thought about it before was: Is it going to rain or not? I knew they forecast for ocean weather, but I didn’t know that they forecast for forest fires, too.”

The idea, said Todd Lericos, the center’s science and operations officer, was to capitalize on the town’s 150th annual celebrations by holding tours on Saturday.

“Not everybody understands how weather data is filtered down from the weather service to the media to the various outlets,” Lericos said. “We are showing people what they are getting for their money.”

A division under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the weather service is charged with protecting life and property against damage caused by weather.

The service coordinates emergency responses with the agencies that had displays in the office parking lot Saturday — the American Red Cross, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA Fisheries Division, Ozone Observation, Maine Forest Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Maine Emergency Management Administration, and local police and firefighters.

The weather service is the Paul Revere among them, Lericos said: the one that warns what’s coming.

That job entails constant monitoring of satellite weather systems operated by the U.S. and Canada, taking information from weather spotters, and observing feeds from cameras stationed around the state that give real-time reads on what’s happening, officials said.

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