Isley, Mose, and Feldman find predicting weather to be serious business.
photo by Douglas Foulke
An essential part of storm prep this winter took place not just at Ridgefield Hardware and Stop & Shop, but on Facebook, where more than 2,500 followers of Ridgefield High School Weather Service went to answer very important questions—How bad is this one going to be? And Will there be school tomorrow, or just a delay? People eagerly awaited the closing-cancellation-delay pie chart and extremely detailed, hyperlocal forecast that came before every storm. Now it’s time to meet the guys who found the fun in forecasting Ridgefield’s woeful weather. They’re not meteorologists, and they don’t plan on doing this for a living.
First, there’s Keillor Mose. He graduated from RHS in 2014, and is a freshman at Bard College, where he plays the flute and hopes to major in music. This weather business all started with him—after he took a meteorology class with Jeff Lasala (“the godfather of weather,” Mose calls him) at RHS, and started making weather posts on his Facebook page as a hobby. “It really started in response to the hurricanes,” says Mose. “There was a high demand for knowing what was going to happen. I was answering questions, and then posting. It was just students at that point, and I built their trust up. Then I started going more and more in depth.”
Then there’s Jacob Feldman, an RHS senior who works on the sound stage and hopes to major in physics or astrophysics. He was also in that meteorology class with Keillor Mose. “Keillor’s postings were getting a lot of attention,” says Feldman. “We decided it was some-
thing we could expand on, so we created the page in January 2014 and decided to start releasing predictions before storms. The first week, we had about two to three hundred members. We had a thousand by the end of the winter, and then it kept growing. Before big storms, we expect about 80 to 100 new people.”
And there’s Owen Isley, also a senior, who plays tennis and hopes to major in computer science. Isley wrote most of this winter’s posts. “We have a dual goal,” he says. “One: to forecast the weather. Two: to predict what the administration will call.”
That’s where their famous pie charts come in. They usually break their charts down based on their prediction for a cancellation, delay, or full day. These pie charts are watched closely by students, parents, teachers, bus drivers, and administrators.
But Isley wants to be clear that the pie charts are not a plea for a day off from school. “Our prediction is not for what we as a teenager would call for tomorrow. It’s what we think they will call for us.”
“It’s hard to know just how much the district takes our predictions into account,” says Mose. “I do get personal messages from board of education members, asking what’s going to happen.” Many have come to rely on the pie charts, which since the group’s inception have been 87 percent accurate.
Along with the pie chart comes a very accurate and detailed weather forecast. The boys had lobbied the Board of Education for $300 and instead received $5,000 to create a weather station. “It is an official WeatherBug station that allies WeatherBug with its actual predictions by sending the collected data to their algorithms,” says Isley (who is also in the process of developing a Ridgefield weather app with live radar and data).
As a result, they’re able to provide a forecast that looks just at what is going to happen in Ridgefield, which has a weather pattern all its own, says Mose.
“We are working on incorporating just Ridgefield data; data that’s uniquely Ridgefield High School data. We want to be as dependable as possible,” says Isley. “There are various models out there and there’s usually a disagreement between models. We have to sift through the data and zone in on our region. It’s complex.”
“The larger weather serv-ices rely on regional experts and they rely too much on past data,” says Mose. “Bottom line—we try to put the process into people’s hands. We explain how and why what’s going on.”
Now, the weather boys have a pitch for their readers: since Mose has already graduated, and Feldman and Isley are months away, they are trying to recruit their successors. “It’s a dream of mine to have it stick with part of the student body, getting weather on the agenda,” says Mose. “Weather is indirectly controlling how we are living our lives.”
Their success has turned them into local celebrities. Says Isley: “I’ve autographed head shots of myself. Weather is the talk of Ridgefield, Connecticut.”