A Salute to our Cooperative Weather Observers

It's always nice to pay tribute to our dedicated Cooperative Weather Observers. The 11,700 Cooperative Weather Observers across the United States net the public more per dollar expended than any other government service in the world. Cooperative Weather Observers donate more than a million hours each year to obtain weather data. Observers provide the precious stream of weather information that we need to forecast the weather, issue weather warnings, and record the climates of the United States. The present day Cooperative Observers can trace their traditions back to Colonial Days. Long before a national weather service was established, people with a curiosity to learn more about the weather began to record their observations of the atmosphere and weather phenomena in the vicinity of their settlements.

Most of the early observations were without instruments or with crude homemade devices. The first known observations in the American Colonies were recorded by Rev. John Campanius Holm, a Swedish chaplain in the Swedes Fort Colony near what is now Wilmington, Delaware. This was over 350 years ago in 1644 and 1645. Many famous Americans kept detailed daily weather records. 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. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson also kept weather records.

Jefferson envisioned a nationwide network of weather observers as early as 1797, when he outlined a plan for providing weather instruments to someone in every county of Virginia, so that a regular statewide record might be maintained. A plan of this kind was not established until almost 100 years later when, in 1891, the Weather Bureau was charged with the task of taking such meteorological observations as may be necessary to establish and record the climatic conditions of the United States. In compliance with these directives the Weather Bureau relied heavily, as it does to this day, on voluntary Cooperative Observers.

Our present day Cooperative Observers record their weather observations in much the same spirit as our early pioneers. Stories of Cooperative Weather Observers are almost lengendary. 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. The Cooperative Observer Award for 50 years service is named after Mr. Stoll. Ruby Stufft, another Nebraskan, became the first woman to complete 70 years of government service as a volunteer observer. A 70-year service award was named in her honor and she was the first recipient. Ruby's husband volunteered to take over 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 volunteered and continued to be the Elsmere observer well into her nineties.

The observer at Coushatta, Louisiana, was reading a river gauge installed on a bridge when he was struck by a passing truck. Before going to the doctor for treatment, he insisted on calling in his observation. The youngest observer was probably James Caldwell, who began taking weather observations at Tilford, Kentucky, in 1969 when he was only 11 years old. Mrs. Addie Koenig, the observer at Runge, Texas, considered her rain gauge an antique. The gauge had been at Runge since 1895 and she would not allow the Weather Service to install a new metal support for it, preferring to have carpenters build a wooden replica of the worn-out original at her own expense. Stories like these continue to be made by our dedicated Cooperative Weather Observers.

Cooperative Weather Observers come from all walks of life; they may be farmers, ranchers, lawyers, storekeepers, ministers, teachers, construction workers, and retirees. Organizations such as radio and television stations, schools, and public utilities are also examples of places that may maintain a Cooperative Weather Station. Cooperative Observers are dedicated and have a strong sense of duty. They are usually involved in other service-oriented endeavors in their communities.

We salute the many individuals, families, and institutions who tirelessly provide the valuable service of supplying the National Weather Service and the citizens of the United States with valuable weather information that continues to acquire greater value with time.