DIY weather

Mary Dillon has always been interested in the weather. She wasn’t able to pursue a degree in meteorology, but she does have her own weather station in the backyard of her west Lawrence home. She even has a Web site that shows the current conditions from her location.

You know what they say about Kansas weather: “If you don’t like it, wait 15 minutes, and it will change.”

It is that variance that fascinates Lawrence resident Mary Dillon. Dillon, who grew up in Hutchinson, says she has always been fascinated with weather, and that’s why she created her backyard weather station.

“I’ve always been a weather buff and love it when the Kansas weather changes. I love weather, and I love watching it,” she says.

That fascination with weather is echoed by Kenneth Blair. Blair has been keeping weather records in Lawrence for 16 years and has high and low temperatures for every day, month and year during that time.

“What’s amazing is that no matter how much the daily temperatures go up or down, the annual average remains fairly consistent. I think it’s interesting that it takes a lot of cooler or hotter days to affect the average temperature,” Blair says.

Dillon uses her backyard weather station to report rainfall and other information to the National Weather Service. Her weather reports can also be accessed online at, then by clicking on the “Weather at Mary Dillon’s House” link. This link reports current temperature, as well as highs and lows; atmospheric conditions, including humidity and dew points; wind direction and speed and rainfall totals for the day, month and year.

This local information is also occasionally used by 6News Meteorologist Matt Elwell. 6News has a weather-reporting station on the roof of its building as well, but he says there are times when local meteorologists will call those with backyard weather stations for additional information.

“Even though we rely heavily on computer-generated weather models, all of those have inherent errors, so tracking barometric pressure, winds and temperatures locally helps us track what kind of weather is moving in,” Elwell says.

For those individuals like Dillon, who are interested in the weather, Mary Knapp, state climatologist, says creating a home station need not be difficult or expensive.

“You can make simple weather instruments that will help you observe the weather around you,” Knapp says.

These instruments might include a barometer, a wind vane and an anemometer, as well as a thermometer and a rain gauge. Knapp, who oversees the Kansas Weather Data Library, based at Kansas State University Research & Extension, also suggests checking a local library or bookstore for how-to-guides, such as “Simple Weather Experiments with Everyday Material,” by Muriel Mandell.

Dillon did a lot of research before creating her present, and third, weather station, which runs on solar power.

“It provides wireless reports to two boards with all kinds of information, and it hooks into my computer to create the information you can access online,” Dillon says.

Elwell suggests that, in addition to Dillon’s Web site, local weather enthusiasts can also obtain up-to-the-minute reports from the Weather Underground online.

Despite computer technology and local reporting stations, predicting Kansas weather can still be challenging.

“I have friends who call me all the time for weather updates,” she says. “I’m pretty accurate in the short-term, but weather is unpredictable, so the further out, the more variances that can affect it.”