Eight- and 9-year-olds are playing a most unusual and important role on the national weather scene. What's more, they are probably saving lives in the process.
It's part of a new weather-broadcasting project for the benefit of recreationists in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell, sponsored by the National Weather Service.At the Lake View Elementary School in Page, some 120 third-graders have become volunteer weather observers on a daily basis, joining others at such places as the Lake Yacht Club, the Hite Marina in Bullfrog, Goulding's Trading Post in Monument Valley and the Navajo generating plant on the Navajo Reservation.
"These observers, including the children, help us a lot," said William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service forecast office in Salt Lake City. The youngsters observe the weather daily and then report by telephone to Phoenix or Salt Lake City.
In Salt Lake City, observations are compiled by a meteorologist and transmitted on a new 24-hour broadcast service that can be received by boaters on Lake Powell or recreationists in southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona.
"The broadcast is sent out on a micro system to Barney Top in southern Utah and then on a UH (ultra-high) frequency linked to a transmitter on Navajo Mountain," Alder said.
From Navajo Mountain the Lake Powell weather is relayed throughout the area, even reaching into Hite, Blanding, Monticello and Monument Valley. It can be received on 166.55 megahertz by boats on Lake Powell or other areas that have the weather band.
"Our main purpose is for the benefit of boaters and recreationists," Alder said. "We can advise them on any kind of strong winds and warn them of impending severe weather."
At Page, teacher Gary Fadely has taught his third-graders how to observe the weather.
The outside equipment is located on top of the school and the information is relayed to a monitor inside the building. Children take turns reading observations, and then telephone the weather bureau at Phoenix.
The project also has had side benefits.
The school has about 800 pupils. Half of them are Navajo children, and about 80 percent of them live on the reservation.
Fadely said one of the youngsters wanted to be a part of the program and phone in the weather observations, but he was reluctant to get his schoolwork done, displaying a lackadaisical attitude. "I told him that if he would do his schoolwork he could use the telephone and report the weather," Fadely said.
With that promise, the youngster snapped out of his school doldrums. However, when it came time for him to place the phone call he had the wrong ends of the telephone to his ears and mouth.
"It was the first time he had ever used a telephone," Fadely said. But more important, he began doing his lessons.
Youngsters first report their weather observations to the rest of the students at the school over closed circuit television. Some have also appeared on commercial television stations in Phoenix and have broadcast their reports over a Page radio station.
Alder said the new broadcast could save lives, thanks to the children and other volunteer observers.
The system was put into operation through the cooperation of state, federal and private agencies at a cost of only about $25,000. It was dedicated May 7 in connection with the 25th anniversary of the impounding of the Lake Powell waters behind Glen Canyon Dam.
There are areas where the signal may be blocked because of the topography of the country. "It is basically line of site, but boaters should be able to get the broadcast about anywhere on open water," Alder concluded.