National Weather Service recognizes observers for their work in Routt County
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Reporting the weather in Yampa has been part of Ellen Bonnifield’s life for a quarter of a century.
“You step into it accidentally, and then you wonder what mud puddle you just stepped into,” Ellen joked when asked why she became a weather observer for the National Weather Service. “It’s absolutely amazing because I didn’t realize that I have been doing it for 25 years.”
She was one of four people who were presented Length of Service Awards last month by John Kyle, data acquisition program manager for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. Ellen and her husband, Paul, and backup observer DeAnna Berry were honored for 25 years of work in Yampa. David Baldinger, Jr., was honored for 15 years of weather reporting in Steamboat Springs.
The observers track temperature, rain, snowpack, snowfall and the moisture content of the snow and then report that data to the National Weather Service every day of the year. The National Weather Service keeps, reports and analyzes the information from more than 8,000 weather observers across the country.
“It goes into defining the climate of the United States,” Kyle said. “Every day, they’re volunteering to take temperature and precipitation information and some other perimeters.”
Kyle said the Weather Service supplies the equipment and some basic training and then uses the information the observers report back to them in a number of ways.
“We use that information not only to determine the climate of the country and the United States, but also for verifying our watches, warnings and forecasts,” Kyle said. “We can write statements on reports that give people a heads up on what kind of weather might be occurring in the short term.”
Kyle said Yampa has been keeping regular records since 1935; however, Ellen said weather reporting actually dates back to around 1909, but the information gathered was inconsistent with big gaps in the reporting.
“I’ve always been interested in what the weather is doing,” said Ellen, who took over the job in Yampa after store owner Floyd Montgomery decided he was going to step back more than two decades ago. “It’s important just to keep up the record. “
Ellen said her involvement resulted from visits, usually two or three times per week, to Montgomery General Merchandise in Yampa. Montgomery would post the information he gathered for the Weather Service at the store, so interested local residents could also follow the weather. When he retired, he asked Ellen to take over.
“It’s fantastic,” Baldinger, Jr. said of being a weather observer the past 15 years in Steamboat Springs. “It’s kind of an unheralded civic duty that is really important to climate models and weather and all kinds of interesting studies of climate around the world.”
He said he had only planned to do it for a winter because they needed somebody.
“So I said, ‘Yeah, I guess I could measure snow every day and rain and that kind of stuff. I don’t really know how to do that, but I can figure it out,’” Baldinger, Jr. said. “So, I did it that first winter, and now, it’s 15 years later, which is unbelievable.”
On most days, Baldinger, Jr. gets up at 7:30 a.m. to log the high and low temperature of the previous day, but in the winter, it gets a little more involved. He has an official snow stake in his yard — a snowboard that measures the snow fall the previous night — and then he also has to melt out the amount of rain water moisture for each load of snow for a 24-hour period.
“It’s a little more involved in the winter and on those snowy mornings because you have to tromp out there in the snowshoes and take you measurements,” he said.
All of the weather observers believe the work they do will bring a better understanding of the climate and humans impact on it.
“I really think that it’s important, so that we can see long-term trends,” Ellen said. “As humans, we have a very short view of history, or time. In my case, that’s 70 years, but for weather and climate, you need to look at centuries. If we can keep that record going, it gives us a better view of what is happening on this little spot on the Earth, and then you compile it, and you have a much greater picture of what’s really happening.”
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