You Asked, We Answered: Why Doesn't N.H. Have a Weather Office?

Jan 27, 2018

"If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes." - Mark Twain
Credit NHPR File

In New Hampshire, it can be a balmy 52 and sunny one day and a "bomb cyclone" of snow and wind the next. It's what you grow to expect as a New Englander. But we still depend on the forecast to make our plans -- and rush to the grocery stores.

So how does that work in a state without its own weather service office?

Listener Sam Ward asks, Why did the Concord National Weather Service office close down? And why do both Maine and Vermont have NWS offices, but not New Hampshire?

This story is part of our continuing series, Only in New Hampshire, in which we track down answers to questions submitted by our listeners about the Granite State's quirks.

One thing of many about the National Weather Service? Someone there always answers the phone.

John Jensenius picked up this time. He is the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Gray, Maine. This was before the holidays, and the big snow storm that dumped on the East Coast.

He’s been with the National Weather Service for more than 40 years, and in Maine for more than half of that career. Which, it turns out, means a lot to us here in New Hampshire.

“In addition to my normal job,” he says, “we’re also what’s called the state liaison for New Hampshire.”

So, basically, the Granite State has got some seasoned meteorologists to its east who relay the weather forecast over to New Hampshire. But why not just have our own office? Wouldn’t that be more efficient and accurate?

National Weather Service, Gray, Maine.

“In fact, New Hampshire does have a weather office. It just happens to be located here in Gray, Maine,” Jensenius says.

Here’s the deal: Back in the mid-90s, the National Weather Service reorganized. They had this great new technology, the Doppler radar, and decided to look at the country and Doppler placement, in terms of maximizing coverage. That means that some bigger states have multiple National Weather Service offices. And some states, like New Hampshire, have none.

This restructuring led to one Weather Service office in Gray, Maine, and another one in Taunton, Mass. They determined that those two radars provided the best coverage for New Hampshire.

It’s around this time that New Hampshire’s existing National Weather Service office closed. But, as it turns out, that didn’t really change the way New Hampshire got its weather forecasts.

Jensenius aims to set the historical record straight.

“In the past, what happened is, our office, which at that time was located in Portland, actually put out the forecast for the entire state of New Hampshire, and then the Concord office was able to adjust that forecast a little bit for that particular day and the area right around Concord. But, in reality, we’ve always been putting out forecasts for the state of New Hampshire.”

He says that with the reorganization, and better radar technology, they are able to provide accurate forecasts and severe weather warnings even without local offices to make adjustments. And closing local offices has meant opening more forecasting offices and hiring more forecasters.

“In terms of radar coverage,” he says, “ it’s basically the same everywhere across the U.S.”

Map of part of the radar coverage via National Weather Service, Gray, Maine.

  Armed with these answers, we returned to the listener, Sam Ward, who asked the question.

Does that satisfy his question?

“No,” he says. “Not really.”

What more did he want to know? Plenty, he responded, but declined to dive deeper into it.

Ward says he suspects there’s more to it - as there almost always is. So we’re going to keep an ear to the ground on this one. In the meantime, we learned a thing or two about weatherphiles.

“It’s just something that I’ve always liked,” he says. “And if you don’t like weather, you just won’t understand. But some of us are just fascinated in weather, and it starts at a fairly early age.”

Though Sam Ward  is not a Granite Stater, he tells us his grandparents were from New Hampshire. He is blind. When he was a student at the Perkins School for the Blind, he would call local weather radio stations to get a sense of things up North.

“I’d take some change and I’d call the WMOU weather phone up in Berlin to see what the forecast was there, or the WLNH weather phone in Laconia, or the WKNE weather phone in Keene, or the WBNC weather phone in Conway …"