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Chinsegut Hill research center closure means no more weather data at Hernando's oldest observation site

Since the Chinsegut Hill site closed, reports incorrectly show Brooksville received only 6.46 inches of rain this summer.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Since the Chinsegut Hill site closed, reports incorrectly show Brooksville received only 6.46 inches of rain this summer.

BROOKSVILLE — Dozens of Hernando homes were flooded this summer due to heavy rains. Roads were impassible for days. Sandbag stations ran dry. The Withlacoochee River overflowed for the first time since 2004. Rain-induced sinkholes pockmarked the landscape.

So how much rain did Hernando get?

Only 6.46 inches, according to the website for the National Weather Service in Ruskin. That's the total given for Brooksville for June, July and August, the peak months of Florida's notoriously wet rainy season.

That can't be right.

In fact, it's not.

The problem: Hernando County's oldest — and official — weather recording station, at Chinsegut Hill, was shut down in June when the federal government cut funding for a cattle research center housed on the property. No rainfall was recorded after that.

Gone with it: more than a century of climatological context.

"It's a blow to being able to keep up with the climate and weather records from (the) area," said Bay News 9 chief metrologist Mike Clay. "I'm kind of surprised that it happened. It's unfortunate."

Chinsegut Hill, north of Brooksville, is a beautiful and historic expanse of sloping pasture land, dotted by twisted oaks covered in Spanish moss.

It has been the home of two county landmarks — a 165-year-old manor house and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Subtropical Agricultural Research Station. That's where the observation site was located.

Weather records at the site date back to 1892.

While there are other observation sites in the county, Chinsegut was the oldest. Another site used by the National Weather Service, at the Hernando County Airport, was installed in the late 1990s.

Given the distance and difference in topography between the two sites, meteorologists cannot compare weather events accurately between those two locations.

It's like comparing apples and oranges.

"It will be tough for records," said National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Close.

A meteorological technician who worked at Chinsegut, Tom Dougherty, agreed.

"It was really nice to have the rainfall data and temperatures," Dougherty said. "It's too bad. It had a nice long history."

It's already had an impact.

When Tropical Storm Debby rolled through in late June, meteorologists did not have a way to directly compare rainfall with the historical records at Chinsegut Hill.

Instead, they used a Southwest Florida Water Management District gauge a few miles to the west, sacrificing a bit of scientific continuity.

Comparing temperatures to past records will be even more troublesome.

Chinsegut Hill is at a higher elevation than other sites, meaning that its temperatures were usually quite different.

During winter cold snaps, temperatures there could be as much as 10 degrees warmer.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432.

Chinsegut Hill research center closure means no more weather data at Hernando's oldest observation site 09/26/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 8:19pm]
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