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Weather Web page launched

August 25, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Want to know how many times Hagerstown has had a white Christmas in the last 100 years?

Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer's new World Wide Web page can tell you.

How about the local record for the greatest number of 100-degree days in one summer? The Internet site can answer that too, along with dozens of other questions about the weather.

And if a weather seeker is still stumped, Keefer invites people to contact him with specific questions at his e-mail address: gkeefer@miworld.net. Keefer said he has already received e-mail questions ranging from snowfall amounts on specific days to notes about cloud-seeding conspiracies.

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The weather site, http://www.miworld.net/~gkeefer, is a trivia buff's dream.

"Everybody's always hollering for weather information. This way, they can get it for free," Keefer said as he surveyed a second-floor room that he has converted into a weather center.

Keefer said he created the page in about two days. He launched it Aug. 7, complete with little icons of a melting snowman and a whirling tornado.

Creating the page was easier than he thought, Keefer said, since Netscape Gold eliminates the need to know highly technical computer language. And most of the information was already stored on his personal computer, so he did not have to type reams of data, he said.

Under a category Keefer labels the "Biggys," Keefer lists all the snowstorms that dropped 10 inches or more on Hagerstown. There are also links to dozens of other sites, from the Weather Channel to forecast agencies.

Browsers can view charts, graphs, satellite maps, pictures and more. There is even a spot where users can calculate the wind-chill factor by plugging in the temperature and wind speed.

The site is not finished either. Keefer said he hopes to add to the web page by including detailed information about this century's major weather events, from the 1918 hail storm that reportedly shattered windows all over the West End to Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

An Internet site seems a natural addition for Keefer, 42, a one-man weather juggernaut. He is one of thousands of volunteer observers across the country who send information to the National Weather Service each month, but few match his elaborate operation. He estimated that he has invested about $10,000 over the years in weather equipment.

About four years ago, Keefer said he began keeping detailed records on his computer to augment the written forms sent by the weather service. Electronic instruments strewn on the roof of his Jefferson Boulevard home and throughout his yard automatically collect and record information about the temperature, wind speed, precipitation and more.

About a year ago, Keefer said, he bought the Davis WeatherTalker, a machine that gives daily weather updates to people who call a telephone number.

But the Web page is Keefer's piece de rsistance.

"I thought, Everybody else has got a Web page. Now it's time for me," he said.

Keefer insisted that he is perfectly happy at his day job, where he has run the presses at the Washington County Board of Education for nearly 25 years. But the weather has been a draw since he was a small boy building weather instruments from tinker toys, he said.

His weather room is almost a museum, with antique weather gauges adorning the walls and shelves next to the two computers that form the heart of the system.

Keefer began keeping detailed weather logs in 1970 when he was still a teenager and became an official weather watcher for the National Weather Service in 1980.

Over the years he has come to be acknowledged as a bona fide authority on local weather - a distinction that has even brought him to court as an expert witness on a number of occasions.

"You wouldn't believe what a weatherman gets called in for," he said.

With the Web site, that reputation is likely to grow. But ironically, his wallet will probably shrink, he said. For about a year, he has sold monthly weather reports for about $75 a year to about a dozen construction firms and other companies.

Now, they will be able get the information for free, he said.

By the way, the answers to the questions are as follows: It has snowed at least an inch 10 times on Christmas Day this century, and on 26 Christmas Days, there was snow on the ground. The record for 100-degree days: nine, in 1930.

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