JOSEPH Anne Gill is devoted to her bow and strings. Each Thursday she commutes to Pendleton to play her violin in the Inland Northwest Musicians Orchestra.
Winter weather has not kept her from a symphony rehearsal in 10 years.
But now, because of a connection she made with another orchestra member, Gill is actively involved in monitoring the winter weather of Wallowa County.
A couple of years ago, Gill learned that cellist Lisa Zdrojewskis husband, Jim, needed a volunteer weather observer in Joseph who would report observations to the National Weather Service.
Gill signed on to do exactly that.
Watching the weather
Gill used to make weather notes in her journal. Now, she sends an official monthly report to Zdrojewski at the Pendleton office, as well as to Oregon State University.
While getting children off to school and herself ready for work, this single mother at 7 each morning records weather measurements.
She then makes her telephone report to the National Weather Service and calls a report in to the local radio station.
If shes gone, neighbors Don and Shirley Otten pinch hit for her.
Gill records the 7 a.m. temperature and the 24-hour highs and lows from a remote gauge inside her house.
She also provides the National Weather Service with other information about local conditions, such as the approximate snow level in the mountains.
She measures snow on the ground in her back yard and records precipitation levels from a collection tube there. Snow in the device is melted and measured as water.
But thats not all that keeps Gill busy. She regularly works as a custom picture framer at Josephs Art Angle.
In her mom role, Gill keeps up with her son Kirks wrestling and other athletics, and her daughter Alexandras horse riding and ballet lessons. Her oldest daughter, Sarah, recently was married. Gill also participates in an evening watercolor class.
Soaking up the outdoors
Home in Wallowa County for 20 years, Gill loves the mountains, the weather and winter. One reason is because she skis both cross-country and downhill. As an active hiker, backpacker and rock climber, she long ago learned to keep an eye on the sky.
Mountain weather can be totally different in an hour, and youd better be prepared, says this former Girl Scout parent and leader.
Gill doesnt have to go far for observations or inspiration. Chief Joseph Mountain looms in the picture window of her home.
She pays attention to the ever-changing natural beauty of the sky, such as the gathering of clouds.
The evening stars bring her back outside at night to drink in their effervescent contrast to the dark beauty in which theyre set.
Shes also lured by the majesty and power of a dancing lightning storm.
Whats the Weather Gonna Do?
After Gill earned her degree in interior design from Washington State University, her interest in meteorology was piqued by her friends father, who was trained in the specialty.
Im not a scientist, said Gill. However, being an observer has encouraged her to pay even closer attention to the weathers details.
Now, people sometimes ask her what the weather is going to do.
I record she says. Im not a meteorologist. I just know there will be weather.
She agrees that its been drier and a little foggier this winter, and that January was a cold month.
Her reports show that:
Last years average temperature was 57.1 degrees. The average maximum was 70 and the average minimum was 43.8.
Januarys minimum temperature was 1 degree and the maximum was 25, compared to Decembers 7 and 43 and Februarys 3 and 40.
On Jan. 12, nine inches of snow was recorded in her back yard.
There are still 8 inches there and its bulletproof, she says like an experienced skier ever conscious of potential avalanche conditions.
Snow has been on the ground a long time this year, she said earlier this month. There have been no warm rains yet.
When pressed, Gill chuckles about how often weather predictions are wrong for her area.
Wallowa County is one of the biggest holes in the state, said meteorologist Bruce Bauck in Pendleton.
The changes across that county are truly phenomenal, Bauck said.
Contributing to the hole in the system is Wallowa Countys amazing (topographic) diversity, Bauck said. Not only do the mountains tend to make their own weather, but it varies from one spot to the next.
For example, Enterprise gets 10 to 15 inches of precipitation a year, but the nearby high ridges can get 80 to 90 inches.
The computer models used for forecasting at this point are not fast enough to map the details of the countys varied terrain from its alpine peaks to North Americas deepest gorge.
More volunteers needed
Shes hitting a home run for us, Bauck said of Gill.
What she does is very important, but he said more information from around the area is needed.
There are other remote recording stations in Wallowa County, such as one that measures the monthly precipitation at the U.S. Forest Services Visitors Center in Enterprise.
The Weather Service would like to have more such remote sensor locations.
The agency has 30 volunteer weather-spotters who can be called for information about storm specifics. But, that is less than one-third of the number needed.
When a big storm comes in, the National Weather Service calls its spotters to learn how extensive the storm is and how much snow, high wind and flooding there was in a particular area.
Anyone interested in volunteering to be a weather spotter, or to provide a remote sensor site, can call 541-276-4493.
Story and photos by Gary Fletcher