Cooperative Weather Observer Program...
The backbone of the nation's
Area Temperature and Precipitation
Updated around 930 to 10 AM Daily
Weather Observer Program is the systematic method by which daily climatological
information is obtained across the nation. This is made possible by volunteers
who take daily weather observations using a variety
of instruments, recording the highest and lowest temperatures and
precipitation amounts for a 24 hour period, usually at 700 AM.
Observers come from all walks of life. In the midlands of South Carolina
volunteers include a retired aircraft engineer, an optometrist, a water plant, a
fire department, radio station personnel, pharmacists, and several women who
manage family businesses from their homes.
often becomes a family tradition. The National Weather Service in Columbia has
one family that has been observing and recording the weather in their area since
1893. The tradition was passed from father to daughter upon his death. On the
daughter's death, the responsibility of observing and recording the daily
weather was passed to a niece who continues the family tradition today.
The longest record
as a volunteer weather observer is held by Mr. Edward G. Stoll who took
observations in Nebraska for 76 years. In South Carolina, Mr. James Faris of
Catawba was honored posthumously for nearly 60 years of weather observing. To
date, his family continues this tradition beginning their 91st year.
Weather Observing program was born from John Companius Holm's observations in
1644 and 1645. Others who kept detailed weather reports included George
Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Jefferson saw the
need for a network of weather reports and in 1776 began to recruit volunteers
across Virginia, establishing a network of reports by 1816.
Another pioneer of
the cooperative weather program was Joseph
Henry. As the secretary
of the newly created Smithsonian Institution in 1849, Henry established a
network of some 150 volunteer weather observers. The Smithsonian supplied
observers with instructions, forms, and in some cases instruments. The observers
mailed in monthly reports that included temperature, winds, cloud conditions,
and precipitation. As the reports were received, the information was compiled
and in 1861 the first of two volumes of climatic data and storm observations
were published based on reports from 1854 to 1859. In the mid 1850's, Henry had
worked out an arrangement with telegraph stations in major cities along
telegraph lines from New York to New Orleans. The daily telegraph reports
enabled Henry to update weather conditions on a large color coded weather map
displayed in the Smithsonian. In addition to displaying current weather
conditions at the Smithsonian, Henry shared the telegraph dispatches with the
Washington Evening Star
newspaper which began publishing daily weather for nearly 20 cities in 1857.
Henry foresaw the need for a much broader system of Smithsonian storm warnings,
and in 1870 convinced Congress to pass a bill putting storm warnings (and later,
weather forecasts) in the hands of the U.S. Army Signal Service. In 1874, the
Army Signal Service took over the volunteer weather observer system as well. (1)
By 1890, Congress
saw the value of the network of weather observations and established not only
the Weather Bureau but a network of volunteer weather observers every 25 miles
in order to estimate rainfall with a higher degree of accuracy. Today, there are
more than 11,000 volunteer Cooperative Weather Observers taking readings in all
The reports from
Cooperative Weather Observers are used constantly to answer questions and guide
public agencies, agricultural and commercial activities, and individuals. Their
records are critical in establishing temperature averages and extremes and
rainfall information. The reports also form a basis for preparedness for severe
events such as flooding.
Henry's Grand Meteorological Crusade", Frank Millikan, WeatherWise Oct/Nov