After the Northridge earthquake struck on Jan. 17, 1994, the weather station run by the geography department at Cal State Northridge was in shambles, its intricate collection of sensors ripped apart.
The station atop Sierra Tower--which had measured local temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind speed and direction and barometric pressure for almost 30 years--lost its National Weather Service reporting status. And, said Amalie Jo Orme, associate professor of geography, the department had "little hope of returning the station to full working order."
But little more than a year after Tim Boyle joined the department as a staff member in June 1994, the station was back up and running, bigger and better than before. "He virtually single-handedly constructed the new CSUN weather station," Orme said.
For redesigning and installing the new weather station and other post-earthquake efforts, many of them performed as a volunteer, the 30-year-old Boyle has been named the recipient of CSUN's first staff Employee of the Year award.
He received the award, along with a $1,000 certificate of deposit from the Matadors Federal Credit Union, at the annual staff recognition ceremony last Thursday, May 8. The award was initiated by CSUN President Blenda J. Wilson to expand the university's recognition of staff members.
Boyle--who lives in West Los Angeles with his wife Danell, a bilingual education teacher--was selected by a 12-member committee from among 22 nominees on the basis of outstanding service to the university.
"Tim's achievements exceed the criteria established...and symbolize the university's forward-looking image...." the selection committee said in a letter signed by Rayetta Esquibel, the public relations staff member who served as chair.
The committee also cited Boyle's consultant work for agencies such as the U.S. Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration, and his visits to local schools to demonstrate meteorology techniques, calling him "a goodwill ambassador" for the university.
"I really enjoy that," Boyle said. "It's nice to represent the university in the community."
A graduate of UCLA, Boyle was a master's degree candidate in geography at CSUN when he applied for a June 1994 staff job opening in the geography department. "My first experience with weather statistics was in a class I took here," he said. "That really got me interested."
Soon after he was hired, Boyle set out to install the new weather station. "We had to replace every sensor we had," he recalled. "The earthquake had rendered the station inoperable."
With $13,000 from the geography department and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Boyle purchased new state-of-the art equipment, including an ultraviolet radiation sensor--the only such device in Southern California.
Previously, he said, meteorologists relied on UV sensors from as far away as San Francisco to take "their best guess" as to how long it would take a person in the Los Angeles area to become sunburned.
After the new weather station was installed on top of the university's Prairie Street information booth, the facility was certified by the National Weather Service, which gave special recognition to its sophisticated design.
With the new equipment, Boyle can now produce current information and past weather data with a click of his computer mouse. "The weather station is run by a computer," he said.
As the geography department's weather observer, Boyle reports each day to the National Weather Service hourly information recorded by the CSUN weather station, as well as daily low and high temperatures.
He also maintains 12 other weather stations on the San Clemente and Santa Cruz islands, in the Mojave Desert and in the White Mountains near Bishop. Six of the 12 are owned by CSUN. And four of the 12 were assembled and installed under Boyle's direction for the U.S. Navy on San Clemente Island.
The stations give CSUN students the opportunity to do research for class projects, Boyle said. He often accompanies students on weekend field trips to the various stations.
Along with the new campus weather station, Boyle had a telephone line established so the public can call to hear current weather data for Northridge. That number, which features recorded information updated every three seconds, is (818) 677-5628.
Boyle also answers many questions himself. "We get a lot of requests from the community," he said. People just wanting to know current weather conditions call. So do attorneys seeking weather conditions for certain dates for traffic accident cases. And students who need weather-related data for class projects likewise inquire.
Once, Boyle recalled, he even helped a nearby resident plan a birthday party. "She said her husband was tired of having it rain on his birthday every year, and she wanted me to recommend a day for the party that would not have rain," he said.
After analyzing 10 years of data, he settled on a date. It didn't rain. "I was worried though," Boyle said. "It did rain a few days before the party."
In addition to his weather station-related duties, Boyle also teaches a weather laboratory course at CSUN, provides computer assistance to staff members in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and conducts his own research projects.
This summer, he will supervise CSUN's role in an ozone study being sponsored by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the University of California Riverside. The work will include launching weather balloons from the CSUN campus four times a day for 15 selected days.
So what does Boyle like best about his job?
"First and foremost, it's always interesting," he said. "It's never boring."