Despite all of the state-of-the-art technology associated with the modernization of the National Weather Service, there remains a program that has remained virtually unchanged since its inception over a century ago. This is the Cooperative Weather Observer Program where 11,700 volunteer weather observers across the country record daily temperature and precipitation data. Some also record or report additional information such as soil temperature, evaporation and wind movement, agricultural data, water equivalent of snow on the ground, river stages, lake levels, atmospheric phenomena, and road hazards. Many Cooperative Stations in the United States have been collecting weather data from the same location for over 100 years.
The first extensive network of cooperative stations was established late last century as a result of an 1890 Act of Congress that established the Weather Bureau (although many of its stations began gathering data long before that time). John Companius Holm's weather records, taken without the benefit of instruments in 1644 and 1645, were the earliest known observations in the United States. Subsequently, many persons, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, maintained weather records. Jefferson maintained an almost unbroken record of weather observations for 40 years, and Washington took his last weather observation just a few days before his death. Because of its many decades of relatively stable operation, high station density, and high proportion of rural locations, the Cooperative Network has been recognized as the most definitive source of information on U.S. climate trends for temperature and precipitation .
Equipment to gather these data is provided and maintained by the National Weather Service. Data forms are sent monthly to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, North Carolina, where information is digitized, quality controlled, and archived. Volunteer weather observers regularly and conscientiously contribute their time so that their observations can provide vital weather and climate information. This data is invaluable in learning more about the floods, droughts, and heat and cold waves which inevitably affect everyone. It is also used in agricultural planning and assessment, engineering, environmental-impact assessment, utilities planning, and litigation and plays a critical role in efforts to recognize and evaluate the extent of human impacts on climate from local to global scales.
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, who took an almost unbroken series of weather observations between 1776 and 1816. No more than five 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.
This award is to honor cooperative observers for outstanding accomplishments in the field of meteorological observations. It is named for John Companius Holm, 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).
Stewart Award (75 Years of Service)
This award was named for Earl Stewart, 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.
Stufft Award (70 Years of Service)
Ruby Stufft's husband volunteered for the duties of the weather observer for Elsmere, Nebraska in 1920, but after a few weeks decided it was not for him. His teenage wife, Ruby, volunteered and continued to be the Elsmere observer well into her nineties. She became the first woman to complete 70 years of government service as a volunteer observer.
Meyer Award (65 Years of Service)
The award was named after Albert J. Meyer, 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.
Landsberg Award (60 Years of Service)
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.
Ben Franklin Award (55 Years of Service)
We all know the fabled story of Ben Franklin flying his kite in a thunderstorm, but he contributed much more. Franklin was probably the first person to track a hurricane along the Atlantic Coast by using a network of observers. He was Postmaster General in 1743 and was able to get weather reports from postmasters along the coast.
Stoll Award (50 Years of Service)
Ed Stoll, a Nebraska farmer, was 19 years old when he began taking weather observations. He was still recording weather observations 76 years later. Mr. Stoll was invited to the White House by President Carter and chatted with the President in the Oval Office.
Additional Length of Service Awards
Length of Service (LOS) Awards are presented after 10 years of Service. Institutions that provide cooperative observations are awarded LOS Awards at 25, 50, 75 and 100 year intervals. Individual cooperative observers receive such awards after 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, and 45 years of service.