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 Teen's head is in the clouds, his eyes on weather maps

Monday, February 26, 2007

©2007 The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) / North Jersey Media Group. www.northjersey.com

BERGENFIELD -- Charles Ferrer can be a pretty popular guy around school when everybody wants to know: Are we going to have a snow day? Why is it so darn cold? And -- is it going to rain on our football game?

"I really like getting those questions," said Ferrer, 16. "It really adds more importance to meteorology and how it affects our daily lives."

Ferrer, who calls weather his "obsession," is a sophomore at Bergenfield High School 

Charles Ferrer, 16, standing outside Bergenfield High School, where he is the school's unofficial meteorologist. He also trained to become Bergenfield's official snow-spotter for the National Weather Service.
and an aspiring meteorologist. He's been studying the weather since the third grade, and the National Weather Service recently designated him Bergenfield's official snow-spotter. Part of his job is to take measurements and make observations, and to report them to the weather service.

"What people don't realize is that when they're watching television, all that data is coming from the NWS," he said. "Snowfall amounts, that's all coming from the volunteers."

Ferrer's obsession doesn't stop there. He regularly e-mails schools Superintendent Michael Kuchar with snow updates, and for several months he's been lobbying for the high school to buy its own WeatherBug tracking station.

The station will connect to a network of 8,000 others nationwide, including 38 in Bergen County, and allow the school to get sophisticated real-time weather data. The station and software cost about $6,500. Since October, Ferrer raised about $1,000 by collecting about 700 ink cartridges and used cellphones in the schools.

"It was a twofold thing," Ferrer said. "Getting money and saving the environment."

Touched by Ferrer's passion, school officials decided to purchase the weather station and build programs around it, including a course in environmental science. They also plan to incorporate the weather station into studying geography, physics, mathematics and technology, and maybe adding an after-school weather club.

"We have [Ferrer] to thank for getting us started -- for giving us the spark to start this fire," said Leonard Niebo, interim science supervisor.

"You see the ripple of everything Charles has done," Kuchar added. "He's really been a lightning rod here. This has been a great catalyst for raising academic standards."

Ferrer has been crazy about meteorology since the third grade, when he caught media reports about Hurricane Floyd. Watching the evacuation reports on television, he realized he wanted to be in the middle of the chaos.

"I just wanted to be that person who gets consulted when people ask, 'What's going to happen to us?' " he said. "Ever since then, when I look up in the clouds, I see the mechanisms that control the weather, all the physics behind it. And there are so many questions to be answered."

Ferrer started volunteering at the National Weather Service, and took classes to become one of the youngest certified Skywarn Spotters in 2004. He was shadowing a meteorologist in August 2005, when Tropical Storm Katrina strengthened into a hurricane.

"It made me want to shoot out forecasts and just get them out to the public, but I couldn't do that," Ferrer said. "But that gave me more aspiration to pursue my dream and work in forecasting, which is to save lives and property. I think that's the goal of a meteorologist."

His parents hoped he would go into medicine, but Ferrer is sure he wants to be a meteorologist on television or with the weather service. With maps and cloud charts lining his bedroom walls, "I pretend I'm my own meteorologist," he said.

For now, he's content being Bergenfield High School's unofficial meteorologist. Sometimes, however, Ferrer's audience isn't too satisfied with his reports.

"People ask me, 'Why isn't it snowing?' And if I give them an explanation, they won't understand me," Ferrer said. "A lot of people are interested in the weather, but how many want to go up into the clouds?"

E-mail: parke@northjersey.com


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