High winds in 2014 toppled a new camper on display by Holiday RV near the intersection of Highways 30 and 4. HERALD FILE PHOTO

Weather Service wants someone to put Jefferson back on map

Special to The Jefferson Herald

March 17, 2016.

At 6 a.m., the temperature was 34 degrees, a few high clouds were overhead and a steady wind was coming from the west to put an extra bite in the air.

It was a typical early spring day in Jefferson.

What made this morning unusual is that it was the final weather observation to be sent from Jefferson.

John Beltz retired that day from being the National Weather Service’s “official” volunteer weather observer for Jefferson, a duty he began on July 28, 1998.

John was the last in a long line of weather observers in town.

The first weather observation recorded at Jefferson was made by Sam Taylor on July 17, 1889.   This happened to be a very memorable day, starting out with an exceptionally steamy 86-degree temperature at 7 a.m. and rising to 102 degrees until an extremely welcome thunderstorm arrived at 4 p.m. and dropped 1.2 inches of rain.

Over the years, quite a range of weather has been recorded.   

On July 5, 1911, the temperature reached 111 degrees.

Just six months later, the temperature plunged to minus 37 degrees on the morning of Jan. 12, 1912, with temperatures “warming” to an afternoon high of minus 14 degrees.   

Another memorable date was July 9, 1993.

At about 7 that morning, Howard Porter, then the NWS volunteer weather observer in Jefferson, called the NWS office in Des Moines with a report that 7.83 inches of rain had fallen overnight. In what had already been a very wet year, this surge of water was to reach Des Moines two days later and flood the Des Moines Water Works and leave about a half-million people without potable water for more than two weeks.

The National Weather Service office in Johnston is looking for a volunteer weather observer in Jefferson, or at least within a five-mile radius of town to resume the century-plus-long local weather record.

The NWS will provide and install a rain gage and electronic temperature system.

All that is required to be a volunteer weather observer is a suitable location to install the weather equipment and the ability to provide a once-daily weather report containing the maximum and minimum temperature (recorded automatically by the temperature system), a manual daily precipitation measurement (rain and/or the liquid equivalent of new snowfall), the depth of any new snowfall and the total depth (old and new) of any snow or ice on the ground.

Additionally, there is another volunteer weather observer network with a need for weather observers anywhere in the county: the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS (pronounced “KO-ko-rozz”).   

This network was begun by the State Climatologist Office in Colorado in 1998 in response to a deadly flash flood event that occurred the previous year in Fort Collins. The network has spread to all 50 states, plus Canada, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

CoCoRaHS has been in Iowa for nearly 10 years and has approximately 300 volunteers spread among 78 Iowa counties.

This network requires use of a four-inch diameter plastic rain gage to ensure consistency of measurements at all sites across the network. There is no cost to join or participate in the network. More information can be found online at cocorahs.org.

There are a handful of active CoCoRaHS observers in the surrounding area but definitely there is a need for more.

The observations from these two volunteer observation networks are used for a variety of applications, such as flood forecasting and drought assessment, and serve as a vital historical archive of weather and climate across the area.

If either of these volunteer weather opportunities are of interest to you, or if you have any questions, contact Harry Hillaker, State Climatologist at the Iowa Department of Agriculture in Des Moines, at 515-281-8981 or Harry.Hillaker@IowaAgriculture.gov.

With your help we can put Jefferson back on the weather map.

Harry Hillaker is the climatologist for the state of Iowa.

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Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

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