of South Central Nebraska and North Central Kansas
Supported by the National Weather Service in Hastings Nebraska
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson began to recruit volunteer weather observers throughout Virginia. By 1800, there were volunteers in five other states across the newborn nation. They included Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and North Carolina. In 1891, the network of voluntary weather observers across the country had grown to 2,000 stations.
In 1890, the growing volunteer force was taken over by the Smithsonian Institution. It was not until 1953 that a plan was established to evenly blanket the nation with weather observers. Dr. Helmut Landsberg of the Weather Bureau conducted a study with Iowa State University to establish a method of filling in the open spaces of this volunteer network. As a result of this study, it was determined that there should be one weather station every 25 miles for estimating rainfall within an accuracy tolerance of ten percent. By 1990, the network had expanded to 10,000 sites. The most recent statistics estimate that there are 12,000 cooperative observers in the United States.
To date, Mr. Edward G. Stoll, who took weather observations for 76 years in Arapahoe, Nebraska, has the longest history as a Cooperative Weather Observer. He had a 50 year award named after him. Recently, Mrs. Ruby Stufft, a volunteer weather observer from Cherry County, Nebraska, received the first ever Ruby Stufft Award. This award will be presented to any observer who volunteers 70 years of their time. She recorded the weather for 70 years and became the first woman to reach that landmark.
In 1933, the Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, with a science advisory group, told President Roosevelt that the Cooperative Program is one of the most extraordinary services ever developed, netting the public more per dollar expended than any other government service in the world. That statement is still valid today. It is estimated that their time totals over a million hours a year. Only about a third of them are paid, and the ones that do get paid receive a very small amount.
Climatological records get more valuable with time. The climatological base generated through the efforts of the volunteer Cooperative Weather Observer provides not only the cornerstone of our nation's weather history, but also serves as the primary data for research into global climatic change.
On a local level, the observations received by volunteer observers are fundamental in helping the NWS to protect life and property. Forecasts are often based on observer data, and even warnings for severe weather have been issued based on information received from a volunteer. Once a month, the local weather office collects all the data and sends it to the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC. There it is entered into a huge national database that is accessible by the public. A majority of requests for this data come from Attorneys, Insurance Companies, Meteorological Consultants, Businesses (including construction), Utilities, Universities, Transportation, Agriculture, Education and the Media.
The "a" network is the basic climatic network of the NWS. Data are used to describe the climate of the US. At a minimum, "a" network stations must observe 24-hour precipitation totals. Many also report maximum and minimum temperatures.
Cooperative stations are placed in the "b" network if their observations are used primarily to support NWS hydrologic programs, such as flood forecasting, hydrologic planning and water supply. Stations nearly always report 24-hour precipitation, and many include river stage or lake level. A few report maximum and minimum temperatures and the water equivalent of snow on the ground. A few stations record evaporation, and soil temperature.
Cooperative stations that support both the climatological and hydrological programs of the NWS are referred to as being in the "ab" network. They generally have the responsibilities of "a" and "b" network stations combined.
Cooperative stations are placed in the "c" network if they support meteorological programs of the NWS, such as the issuance of warnings, forecasts and public service. These stations maintain the same type of observations and equipment that the other networks do.
hourly precipitation- these sites are most likely equipped with a Fischer Porter (F&P) automatic rain gauge. It is white and cone-shaped, resembling a rocket. It stands about 5 feet tall and about 2 feet in diameter. The F&P collects all types of precipitation through a hole in the top. Precipitation is continuously collected in a bucket on the inside. As the bucket grows heavier, its weight presses down on a scale. Every 15 minutes, a "ticker tape" is punched with holes according to how heavy the bucket is. The readings on the tape keep a running tally of the amount of rain and snowfall (in inches, tenths, and hundredths) that have occurred since the last time the bucket was emptied.
A few of the sites are equipped with a Weighing Rain Gauge. Like the F&P, there is a hole in the top where precipitation falls into a bucket on the inside. The bucket presses down on a scale as precipitation falls in. Instead of a tape rolling through, however, the precipitation is recorded by pen-and-ink on a sheet of paper. The paper is mounted on a metal drum that rotates around once every 24 hours.
24 hour precipitation- these sites have a Standard Rain Gauge (SRG). This is a hollow metal tube with an open top, which collects precipitation. The opening at the top is 8 inches in diameter, which is why it is sometimes called the "8 inch gauge." In a stand, the top of the gauge is about 3 feet high. During the warmer months, a smaller tube (2" in diameter) is placed inside the 8" tube. A funnel fits on top so that the rain falls into the small tube only. The observer uses a normal ruler to measure the depth of the water in the small tube. In the winter, the "guts" are taken out, and snow falls directly into the large tube. Then, snow is melted down and poured into the small tube to be measured.
Two of the more prestigious awards are the Thomas Jefferson award and the John Campanius Holm award. Both were created in 1959 for the National Weather Service to honor cooperative weather observers, and the first of each was presented in 1960. To be eligible for these awards, observers' excellence must include accuracy, promptness, legibility, cooperation, consistency and care of equipment. These things must have been done over a long period of time.
Thomas Jefferson This award is to honor cooperative weather observers for unusual and outstanding achievements in the field of meteorological observations. It is the highest award the NWS presents to volunteer observers. The award is named for Thomas Jefferson, third president of the US. Jefferson made an almost unbroken series of weather observations from 1776 to 1816. No more than 5 Jefferson awards are given annually. This certificate is signed by the Secretary of Commerce and the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere. To be eligible for the Jefferson award, a candidate must have received the Holm award at least five years prior, and must still be performing her or his duties in an outstanding manner.
John Campanius Holm This award is to honor cooperative observers for outstanding accomplishments in the field of meteorological observations. It is named for a Lutheran minister, the first person known to have taken systematic weather observations in the American Colonies. Reverend Holm made observations of climate without the use of instruments in 1644 and 1645, near the present site of Wilmington, Delaware. No more than twenty-five Holm awards are given annually. The certificate is signed by the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Earl Stewart This award was named for an observer in Cottage Grove, Oregon. Mr. Stewart completed 75 years of continuous observations in 1992. The criterion for this award is that an observer serve the NWS as an observer for a period of 75 years or more.
Ruby Stufft In 1991, Mrs. Ruby Stufft of Cherry County, Nebraska, completed 70 years as a cooperative observer. This award was named in her honor, and is presented to any observer attaining 70 years of service.
Albert J. Meyer The award was named after an observer at Eagle Pass, Texas. In 1870 Mr. Meyer was appointed to establish and direct the "Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce," now known as the NWS. Anyone who serves as an observer for 65 years is eligible for this award.
Helmut E. Landsberg This award was created in 1986 in honor of Dr. Helmut E. Landsberg, one of the preeminent climatologists of our time. This award is presented to all observer who have completed 60 years of service as cooperative observers.
Edward H. Stoll This award was created and became effective in 1975 in honor of Mr. Edward H. Stoll. Mr. Stoll was an observer in Gosper County, Nebraska for over 76 years and was the first to receive the prestigious Stoll award. To receive this award, an observer must have taken observations for 50 years.
The Stoll, Landsberg, Myer, Stufft, and Stewart awards are all signed by the Assistant Administrator of Weather Services (Director of the NWS)
Length of Service awards, emblems and letters Cooperative observers may be given length-of-service emblems every five years, starting at ten years of service to 50 years of service. There are also length of service certificates that may be issued every 5 years through 50 years. The 10 and 15 year certificates are bronze, the 20 and 25 year are silver, and the 30 through 50 year are gold. 60-year observers and higher will receive a letter signed by the President of the United States.
Institutions include schools, power stations, Corps of Engineer dams, local governments, and other entities, where an individual is not identified as the observer. Often, whomever is working at observation time will record the data. Institutions shall receive an award for each 25 years of service. The certificate is signed by the Assistant Administrator for Weather Services and the local official.
Special Service awards These are presented from a local level, and may be given for any reason that is appropriate. This may include recognition for an individualwho has been the primary observer for many years at an institution, and otherwise would not be officially recognized.