Local weather enthusiast offers up data and more

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

By DREW STOREY

Everyone native to the State of Michigan knows how unpredictable the weather can be. Watch a local news report declaring rain, and the dry sun could just as easily be cooking your lawn at the same time.

Penetrate the rain in an automobile, and you are likely to eventually drive in and out of the edge of precipitation.

Though the weather could be totally different on the north end of Walker, residents of the Riverbend area have access via the Internet to live, accurate weather analysis thanks to 42-year- old Tim Hanko.

It wasn't just seeing what would become his first weather station at Best Buy that got him interested in the idea of observing and tracking the weather. Early experiences of being pulled from bed in the middle of the night by his father to watch a thunderstorm approach fed an interest that culminated in the purchase of his first weather station. This passion was passed on to Hanko and he wouldn't have it any other way.

Two years later, Hanko has upgraded his system to a Davis Vantage Pro 2, which stands mounted to his roof. Though the station itself retails for under $500, the amount of additions, software and monthly subscriptions to accompany the weather station add up very quickly.

Most of the software Hanko has purchased is so the information processed by his weather station can be displayed, collected and cross-referenced on his Web site, www.thanko.info.

The Web site consists of live graphics measuring everything from rainfall to wind speed to barometric pressure. Data can be compiled in graphs from every day since Hanko established the system over a year ago. And there is a live camera feed, just in case you want to take a look for yourself.

"This thing is loaded with features," said Hanko. He makes the statement almost declaring that, even a year after the purchase, he still has a lot to learn.

Having grown up in the area attending Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School, Hanko's childhood was television free. This nurtured a passion for reading, which has been his source of learning about and constructing the weather station and the Web site.

"I've always been interested in the weather. It's amazing how much variation you get in something as small as a mile circle," said Hanko.

For some people, the hobby could seem silly and a waste of money. For others, by offering the web site without charge or advertisements, which is common in this digital weather culture, it is a service provided to local residents by offering a thorough way to observe the weather both for practical and leisurely purposes.

Hanko anticipates that his next purchase with be equipment that will allow him to collect lightning data. A sign that weather observation will be a long-term hobby for him. "It all depends on how in-depth you want to go. There are over 1,000 tags on this software that do different things," said Hanko. "I just have too much fun with it."

Just as the weather is a hobby not taken too seriously by Hanko, he makes clear that the information he offers should not be relied upon for serious matters. "This is not a source for official weather info. Making critical decisions from it would be a mistake," said Hanko.

At the same time, he is happy to share the information with anyone who is interested.

"I'd love for the people of Walker to use the site. I have all the data, I don't need it for myself," said Hanko.

Just as Hanko's father took the time to show him the beauty of weather and the stars as things bigger than themselves, he has provided the means for people now to share the same experience with the storm watchers of tomorrow.