Dawson County COOP Observer Receives 25 Year Length of Service Award

Mr. Delmar Schoenfish, river observer in Dawson County, Nebraska, recently received a 25 year Length of Service award from the National Weather Service Office (NWS) in Hastings, Nebraska. Marla K. Doxey, Data Acquisition Program Manager at the NWS Office in Hastings, presented the award. Delmar has been responsible for reading one of the few remaining chain gages in Nebraska since June of 1981. The gage station was established in 1948.

With the gage station being on the western edge of NWS Hastings area of responsibility for warnings, the river readings on the Republican River play an important role for assessing the potential of river flooding downstream. The river readings also provide information on stream flow into Harlan Reservoir.

Delmar’s wife, Veronica, is also a cooperative weather observer. She is responsible for recording the daily high and low temperatures, plus any rainfall in the past 24 hours.

(Note: All thumbnail images below can be clicked to enlarge)

(Delmar holding 25 Year Length of Service Award next to Veronica above)

Keeping An Eye On The Republican River near Cambridge

Just east of Cambridge, Nebraska one of the few remaining chain gages used to measure river levels can be found. A chain gage is used to read the level of the water in a river to determine if the river is rising, falling or steady. The chain gage consists of a horizontal scale and a chain that passes over a pulley and is attached to a hanging weight. Chain gages may be mounted on a bridge or any other structure that spans far enough over the stream. Water stage is indicated by raising or lowering the weight until it just touches the water surface and reading the position of the chain index mark on the horizontal scale. The gage at Cambridge was installed back in the summer of 1948.

Since June of 1981, Delmar Schoenfish has been in charge of reading the chain gage at Cambridge. For the National Weather Service Office in Hastings, Nebraska, he is one of the first lines of defense should flood waters threaten along the Republican River.

(Delmar points out chain river gage on Republican River above)

(Above, Delmar stretches the chain to get a reading on the chain gage)

(Close up view of the chain gage reading by Delmar above)

(The picture above depicts a Sutron river gage recording device)

(This picture above, is of a stilling well in the river gage house, with one of the few remaining
tape measuring devices still in operation in Nebraska)

Over time, newer technology has come into play. A gage house located adjacent to the chain gage contains a Sutron recording gage, which keeps a record of what the river level is doing. This device also comes equipped with one of the few remaining graduated float tapes. The tape is lowered through the bottom of the gage house, into what is called a stilling well. There is a light down in the stilling well, so John Witler from the USGS Department of Water Resources can tell when the weight attached to the tape touches the water. This allows him to read the tape and compare the reading to the Sutron chart. The gage house transmits river observations automatically via satellite. However, it has not replaced the need for a human counterpart.

During times of high water, personnel from the Cambridge USGS Field Office can use a cable car to go out over the river and take additional readings. The U.S. Geological Survey personnel obtain the depth of the water by using a sounding weight.  Above the sounding weight, a Price Current Meter is used to measure the velocity of the water. 


A current meter is an instrument used to measure the velocity of flowing water. The principle of operation is based on the proportionality between the velocity of the water and the resulting angular velocity of the meter rotor. The depth and velocity are measured in approximately 25 cross sections of the river, along with width measurements.  The formula for  for these determinations is: Width x Depth x Velocity = CFS (cubic feet per second).


                   Written by Marla Doxey and Steve Carmel / Webpage Composition by Steve Carmel



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