14th Conference on Applied Climatology


Nineteenth Century Weather Observers: A Whodunit

Glen Conner, Western Kentucky Univ., Bowling Green, KY

Glen Conner Department of Geography and Geology Western Kentucky University Bowling Green KY 42101

Telephone (270) 622-6082 FAX (270) 745-6410 Email glen.conner@wku.edu


Nineteenth Century Weather Observers: A Whodunit

Glen Conner Kentucky State Climatologist Emeritus Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, Kentucky

The National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observers and their predecessors are anonymous except for their names and addresses. Who were those people? The history of their station is detailed from its inception and we know its latitude, longitude, elevation, equipment, types of observation, times of observation, inspections, repairs, and other details. Each change of the station’s location, observation, and equipment is recorded with the date it occurred. Great emphasis is placed on the accuracy of the equipment, its exposure, and its reliability. Photographs are now being added and GPS locations are being measured. But, we still know little about the observers beyond the their names. It seems that such knowledge is unimportant. After all, the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is the data set they produced. There are computer programs that can determine if the data set is accurate enough to be usable. Sometimes, the data are “adjusted” for “errors” identified by the programs to produce a more accurate record of weather. At other times, models are used to develop data sets deemed to be more useful than the observed data. Because we often use these adjusted or modeled data instead of the observer’s reported data, there is an impression that the observer who saw and recorded the observations was somehow inadequate for the job. This paper identifies the nineteenth century observers and describes their characteristics. The instructions for the observers at the early U.S. Army Posts, the Smithsonian Institute, the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and the Weather Bureau Cooperative Observer Program are presented. The desired observer qualifications are discussed. To illustrate the competency of these people, short biographical sketches of the observers from three states from the year 1860 are provided. An examination of their observations should always begin with a presumption of accuracy. When human or computer quality control perceives a reporting error, it should not be summarily adjusted. The observer’s original report should be reviewed for comments that may explain it. Examples are presented of apparent observer errors that the comments prove are accurate reports. The techniques for learning about the persons who made the nineteenth century observations will be presented and the inclusion of biographical sketches into the station history will be advocated.

extended abstract  Extended Abstract (120K)

wrf recording  Recorded presentation

Session 7, Data Reliability, Quality Assessment and Usability (Room 619/620)
Thursday, 15 January 2004, 1:30 PM-5:30 PM, Room 619/620

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