Over two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson envisioned a nationwide network of weather observers. In 1776, he began to recruit volunteer weather observers throughout Virginia. By 1816, he had also established a network of observers in every county of Virginia. Also by 1800 there were volunteer weather observers in 5 other states across the newborn nation. They included Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina. By 1891, the network of voluntary observers across the country had grown to 2000 stations.

By 1890 the direction of the growing volunteer force was taken over by the Smithsonian Institution; however, it was not until 1953 that Dr. Helmut Landsberg of The Weather Bureau conducted a study with Iowa State University to establish a scheme to blanket the nation with a volunteer network. It was determined that there should be one weather station every 25 miles for estimating rainfall to acquire an accuracy tolerance of ten percent. With this blanket coverage in mind, our cooperative weather observer network has grown to nearly 11,000 stations today.

 

 

It is estimated that the cooperative observers donate their time to the tune of over a million dollars a year making the NWS CoOp programs one of the nation's most cost-effective government sponsored programs.

The value of weather data collected extending back over a hundred years is becoming more and more valuable with the passage of time. The climatological database 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.

 

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