LONG-RANGE FORECAST

Alum maintains local weather service for Cullowhee, Sylva and Cashiers

By BESSIE DIETRICH GOGGINS ’06 MA ’09

Preston Jacobsen ’09 cleans the rain gauge funnel point at one
of his Local Yokel Weather stations.

Frustration with local forecasts became the kernel of an ever-expanding idea now known as Local Yokel Weather, a weather information and forecasting service for Cullowhee, Sylva and Cashiers that Preston Jacobsen ’09 began developing when he was a Western Carolina student.

“During winter months, I took a lot of interest in the snowfall in the area and began to do some friendly betting with my friends on how much snow we might get with each upcoming storm,” said Jacobsen, who recently graduated from WCU with a degree in environmental science and now is a student in an atmospheric sciences program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville while working as a sustainability technician at Haywood Community College. “Our friendly game soon turned into a hobby and fueled my passion for weather.”

In 2007, Jacobsen purchased his first weather station – equipment that monitors rain, humidity, temperatures, wind gusts and other data – and installed it in Sylva. Within a year, Jacobsen bought a station for Cashiers. Jacobsen soon decided to create a website to share the weather data he was gathering and his localized weather predictions. He worked with a computer science student at WCU, and the website was up and running by June 2008. He then purchased a third weather station for a Cullowhee site.

The name for the service, Local Yokel Weather, came to Jacobsen while he was driving to a summer job in Cashiers. “I kept thinking about how I wanted the site to be a tool for local residents,” he said. “I was listening to bluegrass, and I heard the word ‘yokel.’ As soon as I got to work, I looked up the definition, and ‘yokel’ means a local musician. From there, it all just seemed to click.”

Local Yokel Weather became an official business in 2009 and today offers not only weather updates for Cullowhee, Sylva and Cashiers at localyokelweather.com but also weather-related explanations such as why the leaves change color, an e-mail address to submit weather-related questions and videos documenting interesting weather activity. Visitors also can sign up to receive a text message each morning with Local Yokel Weather’s daily forecast. In addition, the service recently began to share information on Facebook and Twitter, and Jacobsen is exploring the possibility of creating a network of weather stations across Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. His next steps will be to construct weather stations in Dillsboro and Tuckasegee.

Joni Bugden-Storie, assistant professor of natural resource conservation and management, said she was impressed with Jacobsen’s passion for weather and climate. “His commitment and drive have resulted in the formation and management of Local Yokel. This is a good example to share with students to emphasize the power of an individual to have a significant impact in his or her community,” Bugden-Storie said.

For more information about Local Yokel Weather, check out localyokelweather.com or e-mail Jacobsen at localyokelweather@yahoo.com.