Bonnie Jantz opened the metal file cabinet at the family business, Jantz Service & Garage in Helena. She pulled from it tablets.
Within those are weather facts since 1965 for Helena, in northwest Oklahoma.
Some days it was really hot, like more than 110 degrees on July 21, 1974; other times extremely cold, like the minus 21 on Feb. 10, 2011. Helena had 42.73 inches of rain for the year in 2008, but only received 14.7 inches in 1966.
Jantz became an observer for the National Weather Service Cooperative Observing Network in the mid-1960s. Aaron Clewell, of Watonga, started as an observer within the past year, but he's taking over for his grandfather, Clemon Clewell, who started in July 1953.
“You know in a small town, on any given day, the weather is probably the most interesting topic of conversation,” said Aaron, who owns Clewell's Family Hardware & Appliance. “I can say something like, ‘We actually had seven-hundredths of an inch of rain last night. That was the official measurement.'
“The problem is people start asking you about what's going to happen about the weather and I just have to tell people, ‘I'm just a reporter, not a prophet. I can tell you what happened yesterday, but tomorrow you're on your own.'”
The purpose of the co-op weather observer program is to obtain measurements of precipitation and temperature, which forms the backbone of the nation's climatological database, said Forrest Mitchell of the National Weather Service's Norman Forecast Office.
The observers provide daily reports of 24-hour precipitation and maximum/minimum temperature to the National Weather Service in Norman.
The preferred reporting time is 7 a.m., which coincides with the time that computer models are run that generate river stage forecasts at the River Forecast Center in Tulsa, Mitchell said.
The data also supports the local forecast offices in forecasting and issuance of warnings, particularly flood warnings.
There are 217 co-op weather monitoring stations in Norman's coverage area. Of those, 137 are reported by volunteers, including Jantz and Aaron Clewell. This is part of the national network of around 11,000 individuals.
A fun service
The co-op at Watonga was established Nov. 1, 1902. Clemon Clewell began when a co-worker asked him to take it over. The technology changed, but his commitment didn't. He'd go out at 7 a.m., and record the information.
“It didn't take hardly any effort and it was a service,” said Clemon, who recently moved to Edmond.
Aaron grew up watching his grandfather keep track of Watonga's weather statistics.
“Now that I'm doing it. I report it all online, where he would call it in every day and kept paper records that he'd submit every month,” Aaron said. “Now there's a sensor outside in the yard and there's a cable buried and run inside and there's a little display unit inside that keeps track of the high and the low.
“Since I've started doing it, it's kind of fun actually and it's interesting to be the one who has the information.”
Norman's forecast office also uses some Oklahoma Mesonet stations as co-op sites, as well as information from systems located at some airports, Mitchell said.
The National Weather Service provides the weather equipment needed for the data collection and reporting, Mitchell said. It installs the equipment to be used by the observer, and trains the observer how to correctly measure and report the weather data.
For measuring temperature, a 25-square-mile grid is used, with one station designated as the climate temperature station in each grid. The location of precipitation sites is determined more by hydrological needs, such as river basins, topography and other local concerns, with guidance from the hydrologist at each forecast office.
“People from all walks of life can be a cooperative observer,” Mitchell said.
He said any potential new observer must reside within five miles of the original location of the cooperative station.
“This maintains continuity with the climate data,” Mitchell said.
Respect for the weather
The Helena Cooperative station was established in August 1942.
In the mid-1960s, Jantz and her husband, Phillip, purchased her brother-in-law's house, where the weather service had already established a co-op observing site. Bonnie has always been fascinated by weather. As a child growing up in Wichita, Kan., she remembers one time wading through floodwaters and she recalls going with her father to Udall, Kan., after a tornado struck that community in 1955.
“I was always mindful of the weather growing up,” she said, “and of course I kept being interested in it.
“I have such respect for the weather, and for the weather service.”