Tony Mondaro, founder and operator of the Harrison Weather Center, sitting in front of his computer screens tracking the weather. | Photo: Heather Chadwick
Keeping up to date with weather forecasts isn't necessarily the easiest task. There's wind patterns to think of, rain or snow that might appear and blasts of heat or cold that help us navigate our daily lives. Knowing what to look for can be tricky. Oftentimes, what helps weather geeks predict the weather isn't just what they watch on television; it's what computer programs and weather services they're privy to. Also, the weather isn't something entirely predictable, especially when you think a snowstorm might be coming. Sometimes you have to start early, like 3 a.m. Tony Mondaro, a lifelong Harrison resident, knows the deal. He's been doing the weather for years. As the founder and operator of the Harrison Weather Center, he keeps track of every single weather current so you don't have to.
Rest assured he's keeping busy. The weather waits for no man. Ask Mondaro himself: he's never even taken a day off. For someone who's been officially following the weather for thirty years, that is no small feat. Mondaro's life tracking the weather began where many lifelong passions do: grade school. In the fourth grade, rather than saluting the flag, Mondaro was caught looking at the Star Ledger's daily weather report. His teacher scoffed at his discretion, and asked him if he'd like to report the weather to his class. Mondaro jumped at the chance, and the reporting quickly became a daily occurrence. That weather reporting lasted well into high school, where he reported it for the school newspaper. He took weather-related classes in college, and not too long after formed the Harrison Weather Center. Today, it is the official weather station for Hudson County, heavily involved in safety planning when weather-related events such as snowstorms and flooding occur. Says Mondaro, “Our thing is to keep people safe”.
Keeping people safe from the weather in this area doesn't seem like too much a task, but last year wasn't any other year. 2011 began with a snowstorm that averaged about once a week, leading to 64 inches of snowfall. The yearly average is 27 inches. Remember Hurricane Irene back in July? The storm brought Harrison 40 mile-per-hour winds and 8 inches of rain. With Mondaro's help closely monitoring the movements of the storm, the town was fully prepared. Because the storm had already caused mass amounts of flooding, citizens were wondering if they needed to evacuate. Fortunately the storm was losing its steam as it made its way up to New Jersey. By the time it hit it was downgraded to a tropical storm, and an evacuation was deemed unnecessary. This, of course was a great way to save the financially-strapped town money, a goal of Mondaro's. Keeping close track of the weather has the benefit of making municipalities alert to what preparations are financially necessary and having someone who does it professionally keep you alerted is an excellent resource. And it's not just towns that benefit from Mondaro's weather know-it-all prowess. He is also in negotiations with the Newark Bears to officially give the weather to fans during the season.
While being able to keep the weather center a closely-knit operation, “A forecaster cannot be an island”. To help lower the costs of operating the center (which can between $20,000 to $30,000 a year), Mondaro counts on private donations. It provides weather reports for all twelve cities in Hudson County as well as all around the tri-state area. The equipment itself amounts to around $100,000 and has been amassed slowly in the past thirty years. The first major purchase was a computer for around $1,000, a pittance if you compare it today's most advanced computers.
Of course the equipment that goes into monitoring the weather is just as expansive as weather itself. Visitors to the center are in for quite the sight, being treated to a mix of old and new technology, from old time weather knobs to several high-tech computers fixed on weather patters and monitors. One of those computers is exclusively tuned to the National Weather Service, a perk for Mondaro. Looking to monitor the weather on your own? He suggests investing in an NOAA Weather Radio, which broadcasts nonstop weather information straight from the National Weather Service.
If you can't make it to the center, there's always the website, harrisonweather.com (also follow them on Twitter @harrisonweather). It includes real-time weather reports, and a live web cam. That web cam in fact has become a favorite for locals, using it to connect with loved ones far away. Visitors log on the site to see familiar faces waving at them. Talk about using weather as a way to connect.
For those of you who are worried about a repeat of last winter, don't fret. Mondaro predicts a milder winter, and so far he's spot on. Since the snowstorm this hit us the weekend before Halloween, we've only had one bout with snow. This should definitely bring relief to Harrison citizens, who still have had enough snow for a while. If they're still wary, there's always the Harrison Weather Center for new weather news. For an operation that had its beginning in Mondaro's bedroom thirty years ago, it's certainly come a long way. No encompassing an entire floor of his house, it certainly isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And what will Mondaro do after he retires? Track the weather, of course! What else?