UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After tornadoes hit his southwestern Pennsylvania hometown in 1998, 9-year-old Kyle Imhoff learned a few things. Weather events could be very dangerous — but also fascinating.
Now, 22 years later, Imhoff is the Pennsylvania state climatologist, working to collect and analyze weather data from events like the one that first piqued his interest in meteorology.
The Pennsylvania State Climatologist office, located in 606A Walker Building on the Penn State University Park campus, provides the commonwealth with various data, including long-term historical weather observations, hourly averages of weather data, and detailed weather information for several Pennsylvania cities. The office also provides a data inquiry service for people or organizations in need of weather data specific to a location, event or time period.
And Pennsylvania isn’t the only state that serves its public with a climate office. Of the 50 states, only two lack a nationally sanctioned climate office. Across the country, climatologists work to organize and distribute valuable localized weather data to individuals and agencies in the private and public sectors, from small businesses to government agencies.
“We’re focused on the state at the very local level,” Imhoff said. “We work on climate perspectives, long-term data trends and expanded data networks that you won’t get in other forecast services.”
The State Climatologist Office offers services to meet a broad range of needs, according to Imhoff. For example, the agricultural sector has requested long-term forecast information and insurance companies and law enforcement agencies can use historical weather data to determine possible causes of vehicle accidents. The energy sector can request information on annual temperature changes to help ensure they’re running equipment efficiently and to help decide when they need to ramp up production.
“You name the sector, they’ve asked us for data,” Imhoff said. “All sorts of different people come to us with inquiries throughout the year.”
Pennsylvanians can also benefit from the office’s real-time weather observational network, the Keystone Mesonet, which was launched in February. It is an internet-based, one-stop shop for weather and environmental data, providing users with all Pennsylvania and federally-owned weather data in one location, rather than visiting multiple sites.
Imhoff assumed his role as state climatologist in 2015 after working as assistant state climatologist to his predecessor, Paul Knight, retired senior lecturer in meteorology.
Imhoff first became involved with the climate office through Knight in 2011 when Imhoff was a student at Penn State in Knight’s forecasting class.
“He said, ‘would you like to work for the State Climatologist’s Office?’ That’s how I became acclimated to the office,” said Imhoff. “I’ve been passionate about state climatology ever since.”
Like Knight, Imhoff aims to share that interest with others through his teaching. Every semester, his class, METEO 486 Pennsylvania Climate Studies, gives students the opportunity to experience state climatology work firsthand. They learn about different techniques for managing data and can experiment with the numerous datasets and resources collected by the office.
“I give students exposure to what I do on a daily basis,” Imhoff said. “That’s one of the things I really enjoy — getting students involved in what we do.”