April 17, 2014

Elyria
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63°F
test

Seasoned observer passes his barometer

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Weather observing flows as naturally through the blood of Ray Diederich as mercury in a thermometer.The 78-year-old National Weather Service observer has been keeping tabs on the weather since he was 20, but after 58 years of watching storm clouds roll in and temperatures dip and soar throughout the seasons, he’s passing his thermometer and other volunteer responsibilities on to his nephew Chris Smith.

“I’m getting too old to keep it up,” Diederich said. “My nephew had an interest in it and was helping me out. It was a logical succession.”

STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE
Chris Smith (left) and Ray Diederich, of JP Diederich and Sons in North Ridgeville, stand with Diederich’s weather recording station he has used since 1949.

As a North Ridgeville resident born and bred into his father and uncle’s Center Ridge Road floral business — JP Diederich and Sons Inc. — Diederich’s fascination with Mother Nature was fueled by the curiosity to find out how the weather affected his family’s plants and crops.

Diederich heard about an opening at the National Weather Service and offered his services via letter. The fact that he wouldn’t get paid didn’t bother him.

“It got into being a habit I couldn’t quit,” he said.

A lot has changed since Diederich first began keeping tabs on the weather in 1949, but just as the weather has remained constant, so have his tools.

A worn, white weather shed behind Diederich and Sons stands a couple of feet off the ground with a swing-down door that gives access to two thermometers, a barometer, a pencil and documentation sheets. A rain gauge catches precipitation nearby, and a rusty arrow on the top of the garage points the direction of the wind.

Observations line filing cabinets in 1-inch-thick files separated by months of the year. Within them, temperature highs and lows, daily amounts of precipitation and observational remarks give a broad history of the past.

A right knee that was rebuilt following time served as an Army medic during the Korean War rounds out all the weather equipment Diederich needs.

“I can feel a good storm coming,” he said with a wry smile. “That’s one thing my leg is still good for.”

Smith, 40, began filling in for his uncle whenever trips out to the shed couldn’t be made, and although he’s still figuring out the art of documenting everything the way the National Weather Service likes, the observing is slowly evolving into something of a tradition.

“I figured we’d keep it here,” he said. “It’s been here my whole life. My 7-year-old son is getting into it now.”

Following in Diederich’s footsteps may sound as easy as a cool summer rain, but William Comeaux, meteorologist in charge of the Weather Forecast Office in Cleveland, said Diederich’s service was an invaluable asset to those who counted on it.

“For him to get up each day and take the weather readings for us without any missing holes is really something,” Comeaux said.

“He’s a whole source of knowledge in the area. We hate to see him go.”

On a sultry August afternoon in the greenhouse, Diederich recounted some of the county’s more notable weather events while wrapping bundles of orange marigolds.

The blizzard of ’78 was a pretty nasty storm, he said, but an even heavier storm could soon be headed our way.

“A lot of weather forecasting is guessing,” Diederich said. “But we’re due to get some good snow. I can feel it.”

Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.