Monday, November 20, 2006

Weather Woman

Marie Knott works 7 days a week, 365 days a year, hasn’t had a vacation in 48 years and is not paid a penny. And, she’s one of the happiest people you’ll ever meet in Hillsboro, Ohio.

“Vacation?” she asked. “I plan on seeing a job to the end.”

The “job” is keeping track of the weather in southwestern Ohio, something Marie and her late husband Tom have been doing for nearly half a century.

The Knotts are part of the largest volunteer weather observing organization in the country: The National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observer Program. Founded in 1890, the program had two goals: define the climate of the United States and provide meteorologists with information for weather forecasts.

Today, more than 11,000 volunteers take daily observations of the weather on farms, in urban and suburban areas, national parks, seashores and in mountains. Every day these dedicated weather volunteers record their location’s high temperature, low temperature and any precipitation that may have occurred and, at the end of the month, mail the data to the National Weather Service.

Even with today’s sophisticated computers, satellites in space and high-tech Doppler radar, the Cooperative Observer Program plays a vital role in twenty-first century meteorology. The data are invaluable in learning more about floods, drought, heat and cold waves affecting the country.

Mary has experienced nearly every type of weather over her four decades as a weather observer, a job that began after her husband returned from World War II.

“Tom had enlisted in the army prior to Pearl Harbor,” said Marie. “He wanted to be an airline mechanic but was assigned to weather school. When he objected, they told him he could either be a cook or a weatherman. So, he became a weatherman.”

Tom spent most of World War II taking weather observations in Labrador, Newfoundland and Greenland. After the war, Tom returned to Ohio and, in 1959, was asked by Lloyd Seidel to take over his duties as the Hillsboro, Ohio weather observer. Tom agreed and provided daily weather data until his death in 1988, when Marie took over the duties.

Marie’s weather equipment has changed little over the years (although the mercury thermometers have been replaced with digital readouts). The manual rain gauge is the same used by Lloyd Seidel and her husband Tom. However, Marie does admit to one piece of “illegal” equipment: a hairdryer. She uses the hairdryer to melt snow and ice accumulated in the rain gauge “without losing a drop.”

Those observations are used for flood forecasting of the Ohio River and for historical records. Precipitation that falls at the Hillsboro station directly affects the Ohio River and other tributaries in the region.

It is vital information that Marie happily records each day continuing a tradition of weather observation over two centuries old. Vacation? Like Marie said, she plans on seeing a job to the end.

Posted at 8:51 AM