Archive for Wednesday, February 2, 2000

Weather hits close to home for Perry

February 2, 2000

The way Charles Perry predicts the weather is much more scientific than a ground hog seeing its shadow or not this morning.

Since his childhood, Perry has always been interested the weather. He grew up on a farm during the 1950's drought, and on hot, dusty days in the fields he would watch the different cloud formations hoping for rainfall.

Weather has always been an interest of Charles Perry, and he
doesn't use a groundhog to forecast it. He is pictured more than 40
feet above ground on the wind generator at his home northwest of
Baldwin.

Weather has always been an interest of Charles Perry, and he doesn't use a groundhog to forecast it. He is pictured more than 40 feet above ground on the wind generator at his home northwest of Baldwin.

"I knew I wanted to be a weather man in grade school," Perry said. "I always liked watching storms. That's how I got my interest in weather being out in it all day long.

Perry took his fascination of weather to college. He studied meteorology at Kansas State University, until the degree was discontinued his sophomore year. Instead, he graduated with a degree in physics, and joined the U.S. Air Force from K-State's ROTC program. He later studied meteorology at Oklahoma University, and forecasted weather for three years at Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base in Kansas City, Mo.

When a promotion took him away from forecasting the weather, and put him in charge of a mountain of paperwork, he moved home where the weather has never failed to intrigue him.

Storms on the homefront

Home is north of the Baldwin Junction on U.S. Highway 59. He built a house on the land where he grew up. The house was designed around the weather. It sits at the top of a hill one of the highest points in Douglas County so that the Perrys have the best views of approaching storms.

"The house was built so he could watch storms in every direction," said Perry's wife Ruthie. "Everything is built around the weather."

Not long after moving into their new home, Perry was chasing tornadoes. In 1976, the Perrys spotted a tornado from their kitchen, which sent Charlie hollering for a camera.

"He looks out the door and yells 'Get the camera! There is a tornado out there'" Ruthie remembers. "I thought I had married a crazy man."

Perry taped the tornado from as close as 1/8 mile as it touched on and off the ground. His footage of the tornado and its many vortexes was shown that year at the American Meteorology Society annual dinner.

"You do have to be nuts to be a meteorologist," Perry admitted. "Just think of your favorite meteorologist they eat and breath the weather."

Kansas wind

Not only weather interests Perry anything in the sky does. He's an amateur astronomer who has traveled the world with his family to view solar eclipses. He's a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Lawrence a job with a direct relationship to weather and climate. He built an 80-foot wind generator at his home.

The wind generator, with its modern blades, has become a conversation piece along the highway. The generator was built following the threat of sky-rocketing energy prices in the 1970s. It was one of the first to be built in Kansas.

"It is a hobby," Perry said of the wind generator. "It makes me feel good that I am making power without using fuel."

It took almost nine years for the wind generator to pay for itself, even after a tax break from the federal government to promote renewable energy sources. Perry said the tax break is no longer available, and only people in remote locations tend to have wind generators today.

"I call it an air well, not an oil well," he said of the tower, which is also a good place to hang Christmas lights.

When it was built, it was designed to withstand 100 mph winds. Perry shuts it off when winds are predicted to be above 20 mph, to avoid wear and tear on the structure, which is on its third set of blades. When it is running, the generator provides about half of the power used by the Perrys. The rest comes from the power company.

Building a watershed

From the top of the wind generator, which he does not hesitate to climb, Perry has one of the best views of a watershed lake built on his mother's adjacent land over the summer. The dam of the watershed can be seen from the highway.

"I'm into conservation," said Perry, who is president of the Tauy Creek watershed board. "That is one reason why I built the windmill. And soil conservation, being a steward of the land, has always been important to me. That is why we built the watershed lake."

Forty years ago, Perry said the founding fathers of the watershed board asked his father if he'd like to build a watershed pond on his land.

"It has been 40 years in the making," Perry said. "It has been a slow process. It looked like this particular pond was never going to get funded."

The project, which is one of the biggest watershed lakes in the district, was funded 70 percent by the state, 20 percent by the watershed district and 10 percent by the land owners, who include his mother, whose name is also Ruth.

The lake covers 24 acres at conservation level and more than 100 acres at flood stage. The dam allows for the lake's water to drain slowly over a period of time, which lowers flood levels downstream.

"It stores a huge amount of water and meters it out slowly over a three or four day period," Perry said of the watershed. "It will help to protect cropland, fences, roads and bridges in both Douglas and Franklin counties along Tauy Creek."

On the job

"Not many people do what I do," Perry says of being a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Holding a master's degree in water resources and a doctorate in hydroclimatology, Perry studies why there is flood and drought cycles in the United States. Through his studies, he combines water and meteorology.

He has been promoting his research for more than 10 years, although it is an idea he has been thinking about nearly all of his life.

"I am a firm believer the sun has control of our climate," Perry said, basically describing the theory that he has given talks on internationally. Most recently, he talked about his theory at the American Meteorology Society dinner Thursday night in Kansas City.

Perry's theory contradicts the popular "greenhouse theory" that the earth is getting warmer because of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

"I was always opposed to that theory, because from the 1940s to the 1970s, the earth actually got colder at the same time the sun got a little dimmer," he said. "Now the sun has been getting warmer again and our climate is warming. However, our climate isn't as warm as it was in 1000 A.D. At the end of the first millennium, the Vikings were growing grain in Greenland."

Perry says the sun also helps create our droughts and floods. The sun heats water in the Pacific Ocean, which is carried by currents to the North Pacific that is when it affects our weather.

"The sun varies the amount of energy the earth receives on a nine to 12 year cycle," he said. "That gives me the opportunity to forecast drought and flood periods several years in advance."

Using his theory, Perry predicted a dry spell in the late 1980s and floods in the Mississippi River Basin in the mid 1990s.

Perry finds himself traveling quite a bit to speak on the topic, always keeping in mind his hero Alf Wegner. Wegner developed the theory of continental drift in the 1910s.

"Everybody told him he was crazy," Perry said. "It was proven he was right in the 1960s."

Perry expects his theory will be widely accepted a couple of decades from now.

"I used to think science moved in leaps and bounds," he said. "It crawls on snails' feet. People are slow to new ideas."

Ground Hog Day

Weather is the first thing on Perry's mind in the morning. As soon as he wakes, he turns on the television for the forecast. He often compares that information to forecasts from the Internet.

Yet, he still trusts himself more than any forecast.

And even though he considers the Ground Hog Day holiday "something to do in winter," the movie by the same name is one of his favorites.

Shadow or not, Perry predicts it will still be six more weeks until spring.

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