Right as rain: Hawaii assistant superintendent honored for weather data work

Damian Baptiste received the Holm award for his contributions to National Weather Service data collection.


Filed to: weather, Hawaii

Damian Baptiste
Damian Baptiste, assistant superintendent at Princeville Makai GC, with one of the analog rain gauges he uses to check and report on weather conditions for the National Weather Service. Photo courtesy of Damian Baptiste

Six U.S. presidents ago, the head superintendent at Princeville Makai Golf Club in Princeville, Hawaii, approached assistant superintendent Damian Baptiste and informed him that he was to add a task to his daily to-do list.

“The boss just told me, ‘I want you to do this,’” Baptiste recalls. “That was 36, 37 years ago.”

Closing in on four decades later, checking and resetting one of the property’s analog rain gauges — and, crucially, reporting the reading to the National Weather Service — is still a daily task for Baptiste, an eight-year GCSAA member who has been at Princeville Makai GC for nearly four decades. Some quick math shows that Baptiste has performed that task, oh, more than 10,000 times, a feat that earned him the John Companius Holm Award from the NWS.

The Holm Award is named for the Lutheran minister who, in 1644 and 1645, was the first person known to have taken systematic weather observations in the American colonies. He is considered by some to be the first American weatherman, and award that bears his name goes yearly to no more than 25 NWS cooperative weather observers — out of roughly 11,000 nationwide — for outstanding service in the field of weather observation.

“I never did any weather-type stuff until I came here,” Baptiste says. “When I came here, my boss said, ‘You’ll be doing that.’ He didn’t want to do it, so he gave it to me. ‘You have to check the gauges every day. You have to call in the data to the weather service.’ That’s how it became my job.”

Back when he first started checking the 8-inch catchment gauge on Kauai’s North Shore, Baptiste had to phone in the results.

“Sometimes you’d get busy doing stuff and forget about it,” Baptiste says with a laugh, “and the weatherman would call you.”

The reporting mechanism upgraded to a touchtone-phone system, then finally to an internet reporting system.

“Now you don’t have to talk to anybody,” says Baptiste, who, in the interest of consistency, tries to check the gauge roughly the same time, before 8 a.m., every day of his six-day workweek. The task falls to another staff member on his days off.

The gauge predates Baptiste — and Princeville Makai GC, for that matter — by quite a bit. Baptiste says the gauge has been in operation since 1910, when the land on which the golf course was built belonged to a ranch owner. Princeville Makai GC, the first solo project of architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., opened in 1971. So, Baptiste has “only” handled about a third of the century-old gauge’s service.

“I didn’t believe it when they said I won the award,” Baptiste says. “I never really expected to get anything like that. Why do I have to get it? He said, ‘Well, not many observers do what you do.’”

The information Baptiste provides is relatively rudimentary. The course has three other, more sophisticated weather stations that provide far more data than just basic rainfall. Those stations provided crucial information used to make disease-management decisions and schedule irrigation.

“We usually average around 90 inches of rain a year,” says Chris Parde, Princeville Makai GC’s superintendent and seven-year GCSAA member, “so we’re basically always monitoring it just for fungicide sprays and applications. We’re such a high-pressure disease area, we want to make sure we’re effectively putting out fungicides.”

The information Baptiste collects joins a massive NWS database that helps meteorologists track and predict weather that often eventually impacts the mainland.

“It’s used by scientists to predict global warming, El Niño … all the different weather patterns,” Baptiste says. “That’s why the data is so important.”

Baptiste’s dutiful service to the NWS rain gauge is just part of the reason Parde is happy to have the veteran assistant around.

“Damian is a huge source of knowledge,” Parde says. “He knows this place like the back of his hand. I can tap him for all kinds of information. And he remembers everything.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.