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Originally published July 17, 2011 at 7:33 PM | Page modified July 17, 2011 at 8:49 PM

Bright forecast ahead for teenage weather guru

Mark Ingalls woke up Tuesday morning, took one look at the barometric pressures over British Columbia and Hawaii, and knew a thunderstorm...

Tri-City Herald

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KENNEWICK — Mark Ingalls woke up Tuesday morning, took one look at the barometric pressures over British Columbia and Hawaii, and knew a thunderstorm was heading toward the Tri-Cities.

He compared his findings with the data from the National Weather Service.

Then, shortly before 11 a.m., he posted the thunderstorm warning to Facebook pages and his weather blog.

He also transmitted it to a national group of meteorologists, which published it on a website read by tens of thousands daily.

Mark is 16.

The Kamiakin High School senior recently became the first member west of the Rockies of Foot's Forecast, a national group of student and professional weather forecasters.

Mark's obsession started before he knew how to spell meteorology.

"I think it started when I experienced a hurricane and a tornado in North Carolina when I was little," Mark said.

Mark's father, Oscar, was in the Air Force and the family moved a lot.

A year later, when the family lived near what was then McChord Air Force Base, Mark already was correcting the local TV forecast.

"I'd say, 'They're wrong — it's going to be 87,' " Mark remembered.

He would see the Seattle forecast from the weather service and knew the difference in temperature between Seattle and Tacoma — at 5 years old.

In the 11 years since, Mark has single-mindedly continued learning about what makes the weather. The science and math involved never seemed like work.

"When you love something, learning about it is not boring," he said.

He skipped wooden blocks and model cars in favor of science kits. His favorite Christmas present was a weather station that could measure rainfall and wind speeds.

That was busted in a severe storm in Texas, another of several temporary home states. "The tornado sirens went off and everyone ran inside," Mark said. "That's when I'd go outside."

By the time the family returned in 2008 to their original home — the Tri-Cities — Mark was ready to go pro with his forecasts.

He soon set up a Facebook page simply called Tri-Cities Weather. To feed it, he crunches the complex information from the weather service, mixes in his own observations and distills it all into precise nuggets of hyperlocal weather.

"My friends tell me they all get their weather from my pages now, not from TV," Mark said.

Early this year, Mark added the blog Miz Weather — mizweather.blogspot.com — to his portfolio. It features short narratives about the next day's weather as well as pollen forecasts and links to national organizations.

One of them is Foot's Forecast, which Mark joined in April.

The consortium is named after Maryland science teacher Rich Foot, who started it in 2004 with his 10th-grade students. It has since turned into a credible weather service, particularly for the eastern half of the country.

The group's mission is to build a national network of student and professional forecasters to provide precise, real-time and local weather information, according to its website.

So far, 40 students in 14 states prepare the local forecasts, supervised by 11 professional meteorologists. The network is a training ground and a genuine weather service.

Foot's Forecast specializes in forecasts pinpointed for a specific area. The group, for example, provided by-the-hour forecasts for the exact locations of fireworks shows on the July 4, Mark said.

It also supplied competitors in a boat race in the Atlantic with up-to-the-minute wind and weather forecasts.

But its weather reports aren't just about fun and games.

When deadly tornadoes hit the South in April, the Web-savvy forecasters in Foot's network worked overtime to keep people informed of the storms' movements.

The group has several students working in the region, but they couldn't keep up with the steady stream of vital information.

Mark helped out from across the country, summarizing data culled from the weather service and posting it on Facebook, where residents could easily get storm updates.

After the winds subsided, many people online thanked the students from faraway for coming to the virtual rescue. That's why Mark puts in the time and effort.

"I like when people can depend on my forecast," he said.

Of course, he wants to be a professional weatherman. But he will put a twist on a job that's rarely considered adventurous.

Mark plans to follow his father's lead, while chasing his own dream, too.

He will attend Columbia Basin College in Pasco after graduating from high school next year. Next he will go off on a mission for the Mormon church, before studying meteorology at the University of Utah.

Then he's going to join the Air Force, he said. Preferably as a special-operations meteorologist. That's someone who jumps out of a plane in a combat zone carrying a mobile weather station to send back climatic information to battle commanders.

"I could help my country and save up some money," Mark said. "After that, I can become a TV weatherman."

So what's a future combat weatherman's favorite weather?

"Tornados," Mark said with a wide grin.

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