BRIDGEPORT — Lonnie Heldermon is doing something for others that the Oklahoma farmer doesn't have to. And he's done it for 30 years.
Heldermon, 54, is a cooperative river observer. He's an important “Plan B.”
And it's not usually a good situation on the Canadian River close to Bridgeport when Plan B kicks in. Technical equipment measures river flow on a daily basis. But, for example, in intense situations such as flooding, Heldermon is asked by the National Weather Service's Norman Forecast Office to go the river and gather the information.
Heldermon lives near Bridgeport, which is about 20 miles east of Weatherford. Heldermon recently was recognized by the National Weather Service for 30 years of service as an official cooperative river observer for that area.
The cooperative weather station near Bridgeport was established in May 1983, with Heldermon serving as the official river observer since the station's inception.
The river stage readings from the bridge east of Bridgeport are used extensively by the National Weather Service and other agencies in river flow analysis and forecasts, stormwater management, and long-term climate studies.
Heldermon remembers just how he got started. He was out in front of his house one day working on a pickup and some representatives of the National Weather Service drove up. They talked to him about the observer program. He went down to the river with them and looked at the equipment. He agreed.
With the recent drought, he didn't have to make many trips to the bridge in the past couple of years. The river has water in it, but is still below normal, he said.
But, there have been times through the years when the water was well above the normal level.
“I can remember going to it, and there was water flowing from one end of the bridge to the other,” he said. “It just looked like it was like a foot or two below the bridge going under there, and that's a long bridge.”
Heldermon was asked why he's stayed with the cooperative river observer program so long.
“It's just kind of helping them a little bit, and really it's no big burden or anything,” Heldermon said. “It's just a good thing to do. We've enjoyed it over the years, and the weather people are good people.”
The Bridgeport station is part of a national network of more than 11,000 cooperative weather sites. The network provides daily air and soil temperature data, hourly and daily precipitation amounts, pan evaporation, and river height readings. Some individual observers have served for more than 50 years.
“Mr. Heldermon has provided a tremendous public service to the residents of Bridgeport, the state of Oklahoma, and the nation, by providing accurate and timely river stage data,” said Forrest Mitchell of the Norman Forecast Office. “The information is vital toward fulfilling the mission of the National Weather Service.”
The temperature and precipitation data from the cooperative program is the official source for climatological averages nationwide, Mitchell said. The weather data supports a variety of users, such as public utilities, agribusiness, insurance companies, the construction industry, and the legal profession.