Volunteer Weather Observers - AP Wire Story
AP US & World Tuesday, July 14, 1998 5:02:00 PM Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of the Associated Press. By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON (AP) -- Every day thousands of volunteers across the nation collect weather observations vital for forecasting, flood control and many other uses. A study says these observers should be provided automated equipment, communications links and computers. "The current Co-op Network cannot be sustained at present funding levels," the National Research Council said in a report released Tuesday. "Modernization will require substantial new funds." The government spends about $10 million a year on the network of 11,866 stations of various types, including about 5,000 that collect detailed climate data. The network of volunteer observers has been collecting data since 1890, with some stations reporting by phone and others mailing in their findings. Most continue to use traditional instruments to collect such information as temperature, rain and snowfall, humidity and wind speed and direction. The information is used in weather forecasting, management of water resources and forecasting of crop yields, and local governments and businesses use it in making economic decisions. "Automating data communications between cooperative sites and local National Weather Service offices should be the first step in automating the cooperative observer sites," and the goal should be daily reports from all stations, the report said. Wherever possible, the council said, the stations should be provided with personal computers for logging data. It called for gradual introduction of automated weather sensing instruments, but stressed that automated instruments need thorough testing alongside traditional instruments at each site. Phil Clark, who manages the network for the National Weather Service, said his agency has a modernization plan but has been unable to obtain funding for it. He estimated it would cost $20 million to redo the network over a period of five to six years. Besides improving the collection of data, providing better equipment would help retain current volunteers and make it easier to recruit new ones when needed, Clark said. The network of volunteers is "the best bargain we've got," Clark said. Some people have been collecting weather data for 70 to 75 years, he said, and some observing sites haven't moved in over a century. That's the type of climate information that is most valuable in studying such long-term trends as global warming. The study was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the volunteer network. Among the recommendations was that NOAA set up an interagency council to provide support for the network and that its management be tightened. The Weather Service oversees the volunteers now, forwarding the data to the National Climatic Data Center for use by others. Both agencies are part of NOAA.
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Last modified: July 21, 1998