The man behind the forecast
Every day, more than 8,000 volunteers across the country measure the temperature and rainfall at small weather stations, in their backyard or place of business.
In Glenwood Springs, KMTS general manager Gabe Chenoweth has maintained the local climate data collection station for 30 years.
The all-volunteer program is run by the National Weather Service, which collects the individual reports and uses it to inform a picture of climate patterns in the U.S.
“Day in and day out weather observations have been going on for years,” said John Kyle, data acquisition program manager for the weather service in Grand Junction.
“We have a wide variety of people who do it,” Kyle said, from farmers to urban business owners and everyone in between.
Kyle recently presented Chenoweth with an award for 30 years of service collecting weather data.
Day in, day out
Each day at 9 a.m., Chenoweth, or someone else at KMTS if he’s not there, records the high and low temperature for the previous 24 hours, and measures the rain or snow precipitation in inches.
Chenoweth records the information on a form with carbon paper underneath. The original sheet, which holds a month’s worth of weather data, goes to the National Climate Data Center in Ashville, N.C., and the carbon copy is filed at KMTS.
It’s the same process that Chenoweth used when he started taking the weather data in 1989.
Chenoweth started at KMTS in April 1988 when he was 16, working nights and weekend shifts at both the Rifle and Glenwood studios.
At that time, federal law required radio stations to be manned at all times they were broadcasting.
In May 1988, Colorado West Broadcasting bought KGLN, which had been taking the weather data at their west Glenwood studio. KMTS moved the weather station a few miles south to their main studio, and Chenoweth began taking the measurements when he worked.
The climate data is only useful if it’s taken the exact same way over time. The somewhat archaic collection method ensures consistency across the decades.
“The form is a little more modern looking now, but the stuff we record is identical to what it was back then,” Chenoweth said.
Some things never change
The volunteer weather data program has been going on for more than a century in some areas. Thomas Jefferson, who kept meticulous weather records, inspired the National Cooperative Program.
The program began after a 1890 act of Congress established the Weather Bureau, which became the National Weather Service in 1970. Some stations, however, were collecting daily weather data before the government established the Weather Bureau.
“Our (weather data) goes back to the 1950s I think. If you wanted to know what the temperature was Christmas day 1960, you can go back and look,” Chenoweth said.
The people in the background
Anyone who listens to weather reports likely benefits from work that volunteers, like Chenoweth and others, do day in and day out, but it all happens in the background.
“I’ll be honest, I probably wouldn’t even know about it if we didn’t do it here,” Chenoweth said. “It’s just one of those things that happens magically in the background,” Chenoweth said.
“Certainly, anybody that gets a weather forecast benefits from it, but if it happens in the background, out of sight, out of mind.”
In the western U.S., it can be difficult to find volunteers to commit to taking climate readings on a daily basis. The National Weather Service prefers to have stations every 25 miles, but that doesn’t always happen when people are spread out like on the Western Slope.
Collecting the data only takes a few minutes each day, but doing it at the same time every day is a big commitment.
“More and more, it’s getting harder and harder to find people to volunteer to do the same thing at the same time every day,” Kyle said.
One reason Chenoweth, who worked his way up to be general manager at KMTS in 1998, has been able to continue collecting the weather data so consistently is because the station as a whole is responsible.
“If I’m not around, there is somebody else to do it,” Chenoweth said.
The thermometer KMTS uses, provided by the weather service, is the same type since Chenoweth started 30 years ago. It’s only been replaced once.
The precipitation gauge is a metal cylinder, 20 inches tall and 3 inches wide. In the summer, it sits in a larger 8-inch cylinder with a funnel to collect rain falling from the side. To collect snow, the smaller tube is removed and snow collects in the larger cylinder. The snow has to be melted, then poured into the small cylinder for measurement with a ruler.
That aspect of the job hasn’t changed since the beginning of the weather observation program in the late 19th century.
“Everybody wants to think that technology is changing the way we all do things, and it really does not change it much,” Chenoweth said.
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