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Head in the clouds, bike on the ground
Man studies weather on the go
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William Minor shows the bicycle he uses to travel from fire department to fire department, collecting weather data. Minor, a former journalist, has been studying regional weather patterns for three years. He was recently in Martinsville and Henry County to study how the Appalachian mountains affect weather patterns here. (Bulletin photo by Eliza Winston)

Friday, August 13, 2010

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Sports Writer

For the past three years, William Minor of Pennsylvania has been traveling around the country on his bicycle, staying in local fire departments along the way and observing weather patterns.

On Tuesday, he stayed at the Martinsville Fire Department, and on Wednesday he spent time at the Horsepasture Volunteer Fire Department.

Minor was a journalist for many years at the Miami Herald, and now he continues to study topics by combining other experts' research and his own observations. As a hobby, he is observing how weather affects firefighters.

"I don't try to be a scientist. I'm a journalist," he said.

He said that his time as a hard news journalist also gave him an appreciation of those whose jobs can sometimes be affected by the weather, especially firefighters. Any extreme weather condition might create a situation that requires firefighters' help, he said.

"From tornadoes to tsunamis, there's not much talk about getting Aunt Suzy's cat down from the tree these days," he said.

When he is on the road, Minor studies clouds, but he also relies on research such as data from the U.S. Naval Research Lab. Although he said he knows a lot about cloud formations and patterns, other aspects of the environment can change weather patterns.

Minor said he also talks to local residents about the regional weather and reads every almanac he can find. Right now, he said he is interested in learning how weather is affected by the Appalachians.

Marc Shenard, a meteorologist with the Blacksburg National Weather Service, said the Appalachians affect the area because the mountain range keeps cool air locked in near the surface. This effect can be observed in the winter, when there will be warmer air above the mountains but colder air near the surface, so freezing rain occurs, Shenard said.

In the spring and summer, areas west of the Appalachians might be sunny and warm, but areas such as Martinsville stay cloudy and rainy because the mountains are locking in cool air and moisture, he said.

In addition to studying local weather patterns in each place he stops, Minor also enjoys spending time in local fire stations. He said that he can get the "flavor" for a place by staying at the fire stations and discussing weather and other topics with the firefighters.

"You can get a flavor for a community in five minutes," he said, by spending time in local fire departments.

However, Minor said he didn't want to treat fire stations like hotels. He stays out of the way and spends time cleaning the stations. He said he typically calls a state trooper to find out where local fire stations are and then contacts the fire chiefs to see if he can stay at the station when he reaches the town.

He said he always tries to be courteous to the firefighters on his travels, and they appear to appreciate his visits. On Thursday, he showed a collection of patches from departments he traveled to recently, including ones in Oak Level and South Boston.

Minor said he never asked for the patches; departments just give them to him.

That was the case this week at the Horsepasture Volunteer Fire Department. He spent the night there Wednesday and on Thursday morning, fire chief Charlie Bradshaw said he sent Minor off with a patch.

"He was quite a character," said Bradshaw. "As soon as I talked to him, there was something great about him. He just seemed all right."�

The respect is mutual. Many times firefighters are working two or three jobs, Minor said. They work as firefighters because they want to, and they have to go to extensive training to help people, he said.

Bradshaw said Minor went to Stuart on Thursday, and after that he plans to spend time camping on the Appalachian Trail.


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