Labors of love: Volunteer weather watchers honored
Wayne and Mildred Warner. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)
In this hi-tech world of automated instruments, the human touch is
still important, at least at the National Weather Service. Indeed,
NWS relies on a dedicated group of volunteer cooperative observers
to personally report basic temperature and precipitation
measurements in remote areas of this country (see
sidebar). "We've been relying on about 12,000 cooperative
observers for over 100 years," explains James House (Cheyenne
Weather Forecast Office). "When one retires, we try to replace him
or her with someone else in the same general vicinity, so the
total number of observers remains fairly stable. The data they
report is invaluablewithout them we'd have big blank areas,
particularly here in the West."
On 21 April, a number of these volunteers gathered at the Mesa Lab
at a workshop in their honor hosted by NCAR, NOAA, and the
Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. "We are
indebted to these individuals," said Nolan Doesken, assistant
state climatologist at CSU and, with Rene Munoz (OEO) and Barbara
McGehan (NOAA), an organizer of the program. "They are a truly
dedicated bunch, taking measurements 365 days a year." And the
years can add up!
Among the participants was Wayne Warner, from Gering, Nebraska.
"When I was about 20, my uncle said 'Here, kid, take this.' "
"This" was responsibility for daily reporting of temperature and
precipitation to the weather service, and the year was 1938. "My
uncle, Bert Warner, had been taking the observations since 1932
and grew tired of it," Wayne explains, and, unlike his uncle,
Wayne has remained a dedicated observer since that day. His
station, known then as Harrisburg 10 WNW with the cooperative
identification number of 253605, had been in existence since 1911
under various observers. Wayne and his wife Mildred lived on a
ranch in Banner County "and taking the observations just became a
part of my day," he says. Over the years, he and Mildred traveled
extensively ("we've been on every continent except Antarctica")
and they relied first on Wayne's father to fill in during their
absences, then on a neighbor.
Wayne has received a lot of recognition from NWS in the form of
letters of appreciation (kept carefully in a scrapbook created by
Mildred) and awards. He received the John Campanius Holm award in
1968 for 30 years of service, the Edward H. Stoll award in 1988
for 50, and the Helmut E. Landsberg award for 60 years of service
in 1998. But the one that seems to please him most is the Thomas
Jefferson Award he received in 1978 for "unusual and outstanding
accomplishments in the field of meteorological observation in the
tradition of Thomas Jefferson, pioneer weather observer and third
president of the United States."
In those 60-odd years, one weather event stands out in Wayne's
memory: the Blizzard of '49. "We really don't know exactly how
much snow we receivedsomewhere around two feet," he recalls.
"It hit on January 2nd and we weren't plowed out until February
10th. There were high winds and drifts over 12 feet
high. We got a little tired of the food, but we were luckywe
didn't lose any cattle in that one, though my brother did." Other
memorable events: a storm with very large hail in 1956, which
damaged windows at his ranch, and a temperature of 40°F
in 1989 (a Nebraska record broken in 1999 by a reading of
When the responsibility of maintaining the ranch became burdensome
in 1998, Wayne and Mildred moved to Gering, Nebraska, "across the
crick from Scottsbluff." And the weather service set up another
station for him: Gering 1 NW, with its own co-op number (253193).
"Mildred thought it would keep me out of trouble," Wayne jokes.
Even at 83, Wayne is not the oldest observer in the area: Wyoming
boasts of John Kortes, who at 93 has been on duty since 1 January
1930. "I'm not too sure I'm going to last that long," laughs
Brevin and Remy Currier. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)
While John Kortes started observing at age 14, and Wayne at age
20, two observers are starting even sooner. Brothers Brevin and
Remy Currier (ages 9 and 11, respectively) participated in the 21
April event, accompanied by their parents, Dan and Shannon.
Between them (they alternate days), the boys maintain Collbran 2SW
(ID number 05174302), a station about 50 miles southeast of Grand
Junction, Colorado. "My mom found out that Marian Hawkins, who had
been observing for 25 years, was ready to retire. We like learning
about the weather, so we agreed to do it," Remy explains. Since
October 1999, the boys have been taking their readings at 8:00
a.m. each morning; an uncle fills in when they travel. "Since
we're home schooled, it doesn't interfere with getting ready in
the morning," Remy adds. Shannon Currier says, "It's providing a
wonderful base for learning about a range of sciences." The
temperature and precipitation measurements are not the only
service the boys provided: they also catch spiders for Denver's
Natural History Museum. Talk about dedication! Sally Bates
On the Web:|
Weather Observation Station
Keeping up with the observers
Intrigued by the observers' stories, Staff Notes Monthly asked James
House, NWS focal point for the cooperative observers in the Wyoming area, more
about the program. Here's his answer:
The network of cooperative observers is a large group of mostly
unpaid citizens who keep weather records. The program has been
officially in place for 111 years, but there are records from the
middle 1600s, and Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and
Benjamin Franklin were known to keep weather records.
The Cheyenne Weather Forecast Office oversees the Cooperative
Observer Program for an area that runs from Chadron, in the
northern Nebraska panhandle, to Lodgepole, just above the Colorado
border. It goes west to Baggs, Wyoming, and then north up to Muddy
Several of our sites are inaccessable during the winter, and some
are during the summer. Muddy Gap is up north of Rawlins. It gets
snowed in (or out) during the winter. The general store/gas
station is the co-op site and the 3 to 10 or so people that live
up there are in the store at least once a day. Shirley Basin is
another remote site. The uranium mine personnel used to keep the
records until the mine closed. Ron Heward, a rancher, took over on
15 April 1994. He is often the coldest spot in the nation. I have
stayed over night there and it is cold! His nearest neighbor is
five miles to the east.
Observer reports contain temperature extremes and precipitation
(including rainfall and snowfall plus snow depth). Some sites
include soil temperatures and winds. The observing form has a
remarks section that may include mention of the severity of a
storm or that it was a "nice day." I've even seen mention of the
birth of a calf.
In many cases the co-ops keep records for themselves, as it aids
them in running their farms and ranches. Others are just plain
interested in the weather. In the big picture, the records are
used to study the world's climate. But often the readings are used
in local newspaper articles or as the topic of conversation at the
town coffee shop.
As the focal point for the program, I know these people by their
first names, I know the spouses and some of the kids. I know which
dogs to play with, which should be working, and, most importantly,
which ones to be cautious of! I have lunch with some of the co-
ops. I check on others after a bad storm has gone through, just to
make sure they are all right. I often call before I make a visit
to see if they need something from the big city, as a couple of my
sites are nearly 50 miles from the nearest store. This is one of
those jobs that it is a pleasure to do!
James House (NWS Weather Forecast Office, Cheyenne, WY)
Want to be an observer this summer?
The Colorado Climate Center (CCC) is undertaking climate studies
that could make use of volunteers here in Boulder County. After
the Fort Collins flash flood in 1997, Nolan Doesken was
responsible for documenting rainfall patterns from that extreme
storm. "The primary source of data that allowed us to determine
how much rain actually fell from that storm was informal
measurements provided by literally hundreds of local citizens,"
Doesken explains. "It took nearly three months to compile but
eventually we had a clear picture of that storm. Rainfall totals
varied from a maximum of over 14 inches to under 3 inches over a
distance of less than three miles."
The Fort Collins, Colorado, flood of 28 July 1997 resulted in five
deaths and almost $200 million in property damage. The inset shows
precipitation totals for the Spring Creek drainage basin.
Realizing that many citizens enjoy watching the weather and
measuring precipitation, the CCC began to form a network of
weather observers equipped with simple instruments for measuring
rain and hail. A Web site was created by local high school
students in Fort Collins; data from the volunteer reports is
displayed there each day on color maps.
From a few dozen volunteers in 1998, the network swelled to nearly
400 participants last summer. It is sponsored by nearly two dozen
private and public organizations that benefit from better
documentation of localized rain and hail patterns.
Weather patterns in Boulder County are as varied and extreme as
anywhere in the country, and this year Doesken's project, called
the Community Collaborative Rain and Hail Study (CoCo RaHS), is
expanding into Boulder County. Volunteers of all ages who can
spare about two minutes each day to check a rain gauge and report
in via the Web are invited to join the project. If you would like
to participate in this collaborative research and education
Community Collaborative Rain and Hail Study
In addition to current rain, hail, and snow maps of northern
Colorado, the site has on-line registration for volunteers.
Student interns will reply to all applications via e-mail,
assigning station names and numbers to all volunteers. The new
local coordinator for Boulder County is Matt Kelsch (COMET), ext.
Volunteers are encouraged to use high-capacity, 4-inch-diameter
manual rain gauges for the daily measurements. Gauges can be
purchased at cost ($25) from Matt. Complimentary gauges may be
available for low-income families and for teachers.
In this issue...
Other issues of Staff Notes Monthly
Edited by Bob Henson,
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Mon May 21 14:55:25 MDT 2001