Award winning volunteers

They carry on a long and valued tradition for the National Weather Service and today several of them will be recognized. They are Cooperative Weather Observers who gather important weather information on a daily basis.

“The cooperative program has history all the way back to the 1800’s,” said Rick Krolak, NWS observing program leader in Bismarck. “They mainly report daily temperatures and precipitation. They are a lot of help, actually our eyes across the state.”

Among the cooperative observers receiving Length of Service awards at the NWS Bismarck office today are Kelly Johnson, Rolette, 10 years; Roland Bromley, Drake, 25 years, Christopher Simmons, Lansford, 40 years; KEYA radio, Belcourt, 40 years and the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, Kenmare, 50 years.

“It’s probably the longest running resource that we have,” stated Krolak. “They make a big contribution to the climate program. It is history defined.”

An example is the Bruce Wentz family from the Napoleon area. They will be receiving a 50-year Length of Service Family Heritage Award.

“It’s a unique site, a real rural ranch near the South Dakota border,” said Krolak. “The father started it in 1968 and now it is his son.”

Cooperative weather observers are issued equipment by the NWS, usually a standard 8-inch rain gauge and a temperature sensor with a read-out display inside a house or business. A field equipment upgrade is underway. Current temperature gauges are being replaced by wireless units.

“They are just getting into the field now,” said Krolak. “They charge with a solar panel.”

The NWS added a cooperative weather observer in Velva earlier this year. The position had been vacant since 2012. The location is considered an important one by the NWS due to its proximity to the Souris River where accurate precipitation totals are often vital.

The NWS does utilize technology to receive weather reports from various automated reporting points throughout the state but still relies on observers as well.

“Nothing will ever replace that human observation,” said Krolak. “We are really lucky to have those people.”

Weather observersations from the field have been assisted by advances in technology. Observers can be absent from their weather stations, such as when enjoying a family vacation, and important data will remain available to the NWS.

“They don’t have to be there everyday,” explained Krolak. “The temperature displays have a 35-day memory, rain totals for seven days. Sometimes observers have somebody else take care of it while they are gone. Either way it is data that helps improve our computer models and forecasts.”

Krolak says the NWS is in need of additional weather observers. Anyone interested in the program is encouraged contact the NWS office in Bismarck.