People all over the Bay Area recognize Mike Pechner from his years on the air as a television weatherman and his long service at KCBS radio. Mike, now 75, went to high school in Novato, graduated from San Francisco State University, and today is a weather consultant who counts the San Francisco Giants among his clients.
Beginning early in his career, Mike cultivated a corps of volunteers with high-low thermometers and rain gauges in their gardens to help him track the microclimates around the Bay. In those years, before the digital revolution, this meant he often made as many as 20 calls a day to gather data for his forecasts.
Beginning in the 1980s, my father, Ashley Chapman, was Mike’s weather observer in Los Altos. It began one day when I was home on vacation and we were watching Mark Thompson do the weather report on KRON-TV.
“I just met him,” I said.
“How do I get to be one of his observers?” my father asked.
I called Mark and he turned me over to Mike Pechner, who was then KRON’s weather producer. Mike enrolled my father and began calling each day for the data. When Mark moved to Los Angeles, Mike kept calling and the connection continued for the next quarter of a century.
Cleaning out a closet last year, I found my father’s weather logs from those days.
“I loved talking with your parents each night,” Mike told me when I caught up with him by cellphone at his home in Fairfield. “Your mother would answer the call, read the temperatures, and then your father would wrangle the phone away and give me his observations.”
My parents were, indeed, an interesting pair.
“They also kept me posted on you,” he added, which was a surprise, since Mike and I had never met. “I began to feel I knew your family.”
Tracking the weather
In the ledgers, my father mostly stuck to the data, but he did make notes from time to time. On Aug. 5, 1997, for example, he wrote: “a shower!” the exclamation point emphasizing the rarity of August rain. Rarer still was the entry Dec. 20, 1998: “Snow flurry about 2 pm.” Mike immediately recalled the day: “One of the last times we’ve had that much snow around the Bay.”
Most weather observation is now done by small electronic boxes, which send in data by satellite. Mike still cultivates a few human observers – one in the Santa Cruz Mountains and another in Golden Gate Park – but they send in their numbers by email, so he doesn’t get much chance to chat.
“I had an aunt and uncle who lived in Los Altos, and I always thought I would drive over one day, see them and visit the Chapmans,” he said. “But I never did. I knew your parents for more than 20 years. But we never met in person.”
My father’s health began to fail as he approached 90, and he made the last entry in his weather log Jan. 25, 2008. Not long afterward, he needed full-time care. But the records continued, and the handwriting shows it was my mother who kept the work going for nearly two years more. She made her last entry Nov. 23, 2009, and the day after that, she went into the hospital. A few weeks later, she was gone. My father, by then in skilled nursing care, outlived her by just three months.
What to do with the weather logs?
Mike plans to donate his records from the observer corps to a local college. I finally donated ours to the History San Jose Archives. And there they rest. With climate data increasingly important and contact “in real life” increasingly complex, I wanted these ledgers to be part of our valley’s story. They testify to in-person weather observation, a surprising friendship and two dedicated volunteers. All material for future historians to ponder.
Los Altos native Robin Chapman is a longtime journalist, broadcaster and author.