2.2 NOAA's Cooperative Observer Program (COOP): 125 Years of Operations and Impact

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 1:45 PM
Room 231/232 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Nolan J. Doesken, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO; and J. Zdrojewski

Names such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are often associated with the origins of systematic weather observing networks. Joseph Henry, the first director of the Smithsonian Institute, certainly deserves much credit for initiating and maintaining the multi decade (~1847 – 1873) “Smithsonian Meteorological Network” -- motivated by a desire to better understand weather patterns, storm movements and climatological assets of our young nation and stimulated by the communications technology of the day – the telegraph. The Civil War was disruptive, most certainly, but did not end the nationwide interest in weather and climate. The 1870s-1880s were years of resource discovery and advancement in meteorological instrumentation. Many states (helped along in some way by the U.S. Army Signal Service meteorological program) began forming their own meteorological services – starting with basic volunteer observing networks. Some data from these early state networks were already being collected and utilized nationally and published in the “Monthly Weather Review”. This was neatly consolidated and expanded when the U.S. Weather Bureau (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) was established by Congress (in 1890) and gained in capability (1891 and beyond). The volunteer weather observer program concept was quickly embraced and a nationwide data collection system utilizing primarily private citizens was consolidated out of the various state networks and the remains of the Signal Service programs. This network continues today having survived a multitude of challenges along the way and has undergone surprisingly few changes. As the network celebrates its 125th anniversary, the same standard manual rain gauge is still used. Manual methods for measuring snowfall and snow depth are also still used today and are the primary source of nationwide snow information for the U.S. Temperature measurements still consist, primarily of once-daily maximum, minimum and time of observation readings, although most stations have upgraded from the traditional liquid-in-glass self-registering maximum and minimum thermometers to the convenience of electronic sensors, displays and data storage modules.

The longevity, consistency, and thorough nationwide spatial coverage make NOAA's Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) network unique and unmatched. Excellent metadata have been maintained throughout the network's long history, and all data are archived and readily available. Thus the COOP network is the primary source of data for a multitude of applications – from the detection of climate variability, trends and extremes, to the design of infrastructure, the basis of local building codes and the determination of the U.S. Plant Hardiness Zone maps, just to name a few. The COOP network has and continues to be a fantastic resource and a great value for our country. Several examples will be presented of the important uses and applications of climate data from this extraordinary historic network.

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