Pye Plasko, a retired science teacher from Carmichaels Area High School, always has been passionate about weather phenomena.
We plan our lives around weather. What we wear depends on the weather. How we spend our day - inside or out - depends on the weather. And what we buy at the grocery story also is impacted by weather. Yet, most people simply want to know what the weather conditions will be, not why it will rain or snow or sleet.
For one local weather prognosticator, the desire to understand what is behind weather phenomena has turned him into the go-to guy for more than 1,200 people who subscribe to his Pye's Greene County Weather Facebook page. Pye is Pye Plasko, a retired earth sciences teacher and real estate agent who gets a twinkle in his eye and grins when talking about the weather.
"I started doing this stuff when I was a kid. I remember the first snow forecasted for our area and I went nuts wondering why it didn't happen," he said. Like the vast majority of kids who live in areas that receive winter snow days off from school, Plasko enjoyed the time to sled ride in his hometown of Nemacolin. But when the snow didn't come, he investigated.
"It goes back a long, long time," he said, noting the 300-plus file cards he kept to track storms as a kid.
As a teacher in Carmichaels Area School District, Plasko emphasized weather more than any other aspect of earth science. When the school operated its own television station in the 1990s, Plasko's students in an advanced science class received an opportunity to broadcast the local weather.
"My meteorologist kids would broadcast once or twice a week. It was awesome," he said. "Some of the kids really got into it."
When Plasko retired in 2007, it gave him additional time to work on his hobby. He emphasizes he is not a meteorologist.
"Anytime something weather-wise would happen I'd post on my personal Facebook page, so I decided to start the Pye's Greene County Weather page on Facebook. There can be a big difference in the weather from Fayette to Westmoreland to Greene counties," he said. "The TV weather would be predicting four inches of snow for Greene County, but I knew it was going to rain."
Plasko said he believed the forecast needed to be more specific to the area, not a one-size-fits-all prediction from Pittsburgh to Waynesburg.
"I get excited doing it. I am completely overwhelmed by the response. On one post with a map, I had over 3,500 hits," Plasko said. "I thought, 'holy cow, people are actually looking at this stuff.' Some people stopped me at Walmart today to ask me about the weather."
Plasko said he tries to be conservative in his predictions as the weather can change quickly with shifts in the atmosphere. He does his best to update his page as often as possible.
"I've found there are a lot of people who like reading about the weather. There are tons of online monitoring sites. There are some sites I pay for and the National Weather Service has tons of information," he said. "The toughest part is finding a chart or graphic to throw out there so people can understand. I am always looking for new kinds of graphics I can use. I'm trying to make it not as technical."
The pressure is on with so many people following and sharing Pye's Greene County Weather page.
"Now you've got to be at least half-way accurate. You are impacting people's lives, what they are going to do and wear. You have to make sure it's at least a little bit credible," he said, noting he finds himself spending more and more time coming up with the forecasts.
As for his thoughts on weather lore, such as Punxatawney Phil and Waynesburg's Rain Day, Plasko just laughed. Rain Day falls during the time of the year when the area is under a "big Bermuda high pressure center," Plasko said. "It is really hot and you get thunderstorms. It is late July." As for the six more weeks of winter, based on the calendar that will always be the case, the weather highs and lows during that period are the real question mark.
Plasko said early on, he began to see big similarities between the current patterns and those of winter 1976. Based on that, Plasko said he thinks we are currently in a pattern that is going to continue into late February.
"There is a correlation to what is coming this year. It has not been this dense since 1976. We were due," he said. "With winter weather, you can't go out beyond three days with a forecast. You can lock it down from three days in."
Why is it that Greene County's own weatherman never pursued such a passion on a professional level? Plasko chalked it up to stage fright. One might think he made the leap at some juncture in life based on his profile photo on his Facebook page. The image of Plasko, smiling, in a suit, and pointing at a map of the state certainly looks like he did.
"We (visited) a Pittsburgh TV station years ago for a junior high quiz thing and we wandered off into the studio. That was where that was taken," he said. "I wanted to do it (become a meteorologist) but I had no confidence for live TV."
Although Plasko didn't make the leap himself, he is proud to say that his emphasis on the weather while teaching did influence a student.
That student, Caitlin Lawrence, is working on her master's degree in applied meteorology at Mississippi State University. She has been a volunteer meteorologist for La Grande Weather Service in Oregon, was a weather intern for KDKA-TV and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh and spent three years as a storm chaser.