Monday, February 27, 2012

Continuing A Tradition Out Of Love

The Cooperative Observer Program that the National Weather Service runs is a critical program that allows for additional sets of data in a number of locations around the country. The co-op observer provides daily high and low temperature, rainfall, and snowfall information to the National Weather Service, using an approved set of instruments that are checked by the National Weather Service to ensure quality control on a semi-regular basis. These are the true “weather weenies” as they send their data in on a daily basis. Thanks to the information age that daily reporting of data is a bit easier but before then, it was phone calls and trudging out to their thermometer and rain gauge on a much more regular basis.

Among the cooperative observer sites that are in place in the region are Hammonton, NJ.

On Thursday night, Denise Ordille, the co-op observer for Hammonton, will present a talk on the history of Hammonton weather to the Hammonton Historical Society at the Frog Rock Golf & Country Club. The story behind Denise’s talk isn’t just that of an eighty plus year history of near continuous weather observations but that of one individual’s desire to continue the cooperative program in her community as a tribute to her late husband, Jack.

The weather history of Hammonton spans back to the 1930’s, thanks to the efforts of the Parkhurst family. Father and son, W. Hubbard and Bill, were the first co-op observers in Hammonton and ran the weather data in Hammonton until 2003, when Jack Ordille took over.

Jack passed away suddenly in late 2010 at a relatively young age (42). Jack and I were friends and I had chatted with him about four days before he passed away…needless to say, his passing threw me for a loop because I had chatted just a few days prior and because of his young age (I’m 35).

Denise took over as the co-op in Hammonton a few weeks after Jack’s passing.

“Jack loved everything weather,” Denise recalled. “When he took over the station in 2003, he said it was an honor to maintain a station with such a long history. After Jack died, I inquired with the NWS about becoming an observer because to me, it felt like a small way to keep Jack's memory and legacy alive. They came out and trained me, and I started doing the observations in January of 2011.”

The Hammonton Historical Society had arranged a presentation with Jack for March 2010, which was then rescheduled to March 2011 and then postponed after Jack passed away. With Jack’s passing, the historical society reached out to Denise in 2011 about making the presentation not only about Hammonton’s weather but also a tribute to Jack.

“I knew next to nothing about weather at the time, but couldn't pass up the offer to have something done as a tribute to Jack, so I said I'd do it. Then I figured I had a year to figure out what in the world I would talk about! Turns out that as I went through stuff over the course of the year, I came across the speech Jack had drafted when he was planning to present. I used that as the basis for my talk, and of course added my own stuff as well.”

Since taking over as co-op in Hammonton, Denise says that she “learned a lot about the co-op station in the past year; little things like how to take measurements of rain and snow and how the reporting works and really how important and useful the co-op data is.”

Why is the co-op program important?

The Cooperative Observer Program, called co-op for short, is truly the nation’s weather and climate observing network of, by, and for the people. More than 11,000 volunteers take observations nationwide. The program’s mission is two-fold. First, to provide observational meteorological data consisting of daily maximum and minimum temperatures, snowfall, and 24-hour precipitation totals required to define the climate of the United States and to help measure the long-term climate changes. Also, it exists to provide observational meteorological data in near real-time to support forecast, warning and other public service programs of the National Weather Service.

For those of you in the Pinelands in South Jersey, this is a good event to attend if you’re interested in weather history in your part of the universe.