David Block '76 shares fond memories of weather watching at Carroll

Author: Linda Spice '89, M.Ed. '19

Published Date: 10/28/2021

Categories: Alumni Environmental Science

Alumnus David Block '76

A TV camera recently installed on top of the Hastad Hall roof provides WISN 12 News viewers in metro Milwaukee shots of weather activity from a campus with a long history of weather watching. While the partnership between Carroll and the TV station is relatively new, the opportunity to provide reliable weather data to the community once came from students and professors inside classrooms tracing back to the 1950s.

David Block ’76, was one of those students and continued his passion for weather tracking when he came back to Carroll to teach in 1988. He witnessed through the years how weather data at Carroll evolved within classrooms from handwritten graphs to digital technology. Now a professor emeritus of environmental science, Block remains nostalgic for the hard work that he and others put into those early years and still keeps a stack of graphs in bound books inside a home office in Waukesha.

"When Maxon Hall came down I grabbed as many of the resources as I could," he said. "Those are handwritten records that told the stories of generations of students who had faithfully addressed that task," of tracking weather data.

According to Block, Waukesha’s weather records date back to the 1890s and the city was one of the first in Wisconsin to document daily weather information.

Carroll became an official weather recording station in the early 1950s when Dr. Ben Richason Jr. oversaw daily records being maintained by the Geography Department. When Block arrived as a student in the 1970s, one of his student jobs involved preparing a monthly weather summary, including a chart and written summary, for the local newspaper, the Waukesha Freeman, he said.

“I was a student at Carroll at a time when a lot of the opportunities to do atmospheric study were really established and I just ran with that ball,” Block said. “I graduated in ’76 and came back in ’88 and the ball was bounced right back in my court, and I could do a lot more as a professor.”

Before returning to Carroll to teach, Block had gone on to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to earn his master’s degree and doctorate in geography, and taught in Maryland for nine years. At Carroll, he assumed oversight of the weather station and weather reporting responsibilities, shortly after Richason’s death.

“Because I’d previously taught climatology and meteorology at the state university in Maryland and had completed several training workshops through the National Weather Service, I looked to further expand Carroll’s visibility in this area,” said Block, who applied for and received a major Keck Foundation Grant in the early 1990s. The funds covered the costs for a state-of-the-art weather analysis system in Maxon’s new computer environmental mapping lab.

Block also served as Waukesha’s official National Weather Service observer, a role that ended in 2000 when the agency automated some local operations and moved Waukesha’s weather station from Carroll to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. He said he continued to provide backup information for years following the move, and to this day, still keeps a large rain gauge in his backyard “in case anything breaks down. They can call me and say, ‘What did you record?’"

Block said, “None of the next generation is as fascinated by paper records as I am, and that’s OK. That’s OK."

While automation and technology moved weather watching away from Carroll’s campus, the partnership with WISN has brought it back — if only for a short time — under a one-year contract. As Carroll celebrates 175 years in 2021, the university hopes the new partnership with WISN will raise an awareness of the school for Milwaukee-area families. The station provides a mention of Carroll at least once per day as meteorologists use the camera’s view of campus to illustrate local weather in Waukesha.

"This was an opportunity for Carroll to extend its reach and gain more exposure to potential students and families who may not have had the opportunity to see our beautiful campus," said Tiffany Wynn, vice president of Marketing & Communications. "Hopefully this will pique their interest to come visit and learn more about the university."

The partnership between Carroll and WISN happened — in part — thanks to one of Block’s former students, Lindsey Slater ’08. Slater is now a meteorologist with the TV station and credits Block with providing the guidance she needed to succeed in her career path.

"If it wasn't for David Block I probably would not be a meteorologist in Wisconsin, period," she said.

She advocated for her employer to install a camera at Carroll, and was thrilled to use it for work while experiencing a connection back to her alma mater.

"I remember the first day we had the camera and I was like, 'Oh there's my campus!'" Slater said. "Just being able to see it every day kind of takes you home a little bit, which is really special."

The camera connects Slater back to campus personally, and professionally, it provides a view at the ground level that she said a radar and weather models cannot capture.

"I'm just very happy that Carroll University is part of that network that we use to give people an accurate forecast," she said.

Even with the reliability and availability of technology today, Block said he’ll continue to rely on his rain gauge and pen-to-paper records.

“We don’t really have a sense of place if we’re just relying on digital data that others have provided,” he said. “So each day, I’m walking out and checking my rain gauge and still recording rain. It’s a part of me understanding the world a little bit more intimately."

Panoramic View of campus