Our January weather draws close attention from a young forecaster

Jonathan Pulley is an amateur weather forecaster and the moderator of Whidbey Island Weather.

It’s January on our Rock, a month where most of our conversations move indoors to complain about the weather. We usually call this our dark-dank-dreary month which Rock dwellers remedy with lots of flannel, fleece, firewood and reading material.

This January, however, has been very different. It began with a terrific windstorm that took out trees and cut off power to many of us. Then, in the last couple weeks has come an Arctic blast of sub-freezing cold air, ice and snow. Not dark, dank and dreary. More like shiver, slip and slide.

Thanks to the internet, these days we can huddle together to share weather reports, commiserate and learn what’s happening all over the Rock. And the most popular spot to virtually huddle is the Whidbey Island Weather group on Facebook, which currently has more than 14,000 members — about 20% of the Rock’s current population.

Whidbey Island Weather began 14 years ago by William Ingraham, a Navy man and amateur weather geek. It was originally dubbed North Whidbey Island Weather and focused on Oak Harbor to Deception Pass. Then Jon Pollock, another hobby meteorologist, joined the group and became the moderator when Ingraham moved away. Pollock’s forecasts were closely followed by the group’s membership, which totaled only about 750 by 2016. By 2021, the group had been renamed Whidbey Island Weather, as more Central and South-enders asked for information about their areas and Pollock added it.

Flash forward to January, 2024. Pollock is gone from the group and its moderator is now Jonathan Pulley, an amateur weather forecaster who lives north of Oak Harbor. This week I gave Pulley a call to find out what’s he thinking about our unusual January weather.

The first thing I learned really surprised me: He is an 18-year-old high school senior who attends the Running Start college-prep program at Skagit Valley College in Oak Harbor. He spends a few hours every day checking various weather apps on line and then makes his forecasts, which are closely followed and commented upon by his group’s thousands of members. “I think some of the members know I’m pretty young,” he said. “But I suppose a lot of the others think I’m this 30- or 40-year-old weather geek.”

He became the group’s moderator in November 2021 — when he was just 16 — after Pollock liked the forecast he had done for Thanksgiving and needed someone to take over as group lead.

His interest in the subject began at a much earlier age. “I think I started getting interested in weather when I was 6 or 8 years old,” he said. “My grandmother, who lives in Lagoon Point, always had the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radio on in the morning, and I would listen and wait for them to talk about Whidbey Island.”

He’s fascinated by the dynamic weather patterns that develop because of the mountains and water that surround Whidbey Island. “And that’s what brings us our wind storms and all the other weather.”

Pulley enjoys the attention his forecasts draw. “I really like that so many people follow these forecasts and I’m glad to be of service to the community — even though I don’t get paid for it.”

As for the future, Pulley hopes to study atmospheric science at the University of Washington next fall and eventually find a career in some aspect of meteorology. “It could be with the National Weather Service or it could even be working as a weather dispatcher for an airline,” he said.

And what happens to the Whidbey Island Weather group if he leaves the Rock to attend the UW? “I may be able to continue doing the forecasts,” he said. “I’d only be 50 miles away.” He is also considering passing it to a couple of the group members who have become proficient in looking at weather data and making forecasts.

I came away from my conversation with him about weather very impressed — but also for a different reason. These days we keep hearing that young people in the 18-to-30 bracket are bored, dissatisfied and have little interest in their communities. That is definitely not the case with Jonathan Pulley, come rain or shine.

Harry Anderson is a retired journalist who worked for the Los Angeles Times and now resides on Central Whidbey.