Any way you count it, it's been a long time

Representatives of the Syracuse office of the National Weather Service were in Huntington Tuesday, March 17, to honor the staff of the Huntington water works plant for 75 years taking weather readings for the NWS.
Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published March 23, 2009

In October of 1882, O.E. Mohler stepped outside and recorded the weather in Huntington.

Somebody's been doing it ever since.

Exactly where Mr. Wohler and his immediate successors took their recordings is lost to history. For the last half-century, though, the weather observations have been made at Huntington's water works plant on Engle Street.
Weather observations didn't start at the plant, though, and the National Weather Service says Huntington's been helping out the NWS for more like 126 years. The Weather Service staff came to town Tuesday, March 17, to recognize 75 years of uninterrupted service.

"Not counting years with a Feb. 29 - and there were no missed readings - that's approximately 27,375 observations that have been taken from here," says Brentley Lothamer, observation program leader with the National Weather Service office in Syracuse, referring to the 75 years.

That's a pretty good track record, says Lothamer, who accompanied several other members of his office to Huntington to recognize the local weather station.

Lothamer coordinates weather observers in 37 counties across Indiana, Michigan and Ohio and can count three or four observation sites in his area that have been keeping track of the weather for around 68 years.

"And there's one other place we have, up in Michigan, that's the same length as Huntington," he says. "We've got a lot of people who do this for a few years, or five or 10 years."

Ron Martin, who currently shares weather observation responsibilities with fellow water department employee Larry Covey, believes the weather observation streak at the Huntington station is one that can't be beaten.

"It should be 119 years we've been doing weather; we got an award in 1990 for 100 years," Martin says, pointing to the certificate on the wall. "It's 75 years of volunteer service. I guess they used to pay them 50 cents a day."

"The first network of cooperative stations was set up as a result of an act of Congress in 1890 that established the Weather Bureau, but many co-op stations began operating long before that time," Lothamer says. "This station was one of those."

The weather observations have been made at the water works plant since it opened in January 1956, Lothamer says. The location of the previous station is unknown, he says, but it has to have been within five miles of the current station or it would have been listed in NWS records as a separate station.

Mr. Mohler, whoever he was - the only record Huntington County historian Joan Keefer could find of him was that he once went to a weather convention in Indianapolis - was taking his recordings 126 years ago.

Lothamer brought with him the official record sheet filled out by Mohler in November 1882 and sent to the War Department for the Signal Service of the United States Navy. Every day, Mohler recorded the rainfall and snowfall; three times a day - at 7 a.m., 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. - he recorded the temperature, cloud conditions and wind speed and direction.

On that particular month in Huntington, Mohler recorded the high temperature as 71 degrees, the low temperature at 15 degrees, and six days of rain or snow leaving a total of 2.27 inches of precipitation.

Mohler also made note of any unusual conditions he observed, resulting in this memo:

"A most beautiful display of aurora borealis took place in the night of the 19th. The aurora was first visible about 10:30 p.m. and continued until daylight in the morning of the 20th. Its appearance in some things is fully equal to the display of April 18th. The entire northern skies were lighted up with a bright crimson, the appearance resembling the reflections of a distant fire. The waves would start from the horizon and with a bright blue flame, would shoot far upward in the sky, then recede and die away a faint yellow or orange color, then again start ... until the light put an end to the sight."

Martin, who's been on weather duty for about 15 years, doesn't wax quite so poetic. But at 7:30 every morning, 365 mornings a year, he or Covey checks the temperature and precipitation for the previous 24-hour period, recording the high, low and current temperatures.

Some extremes recorded in Huntington, Lothamer says, include a high of 102 degrees in July 10, 1988, and a low of 28 below on Jan. 11, 1982. On July 5, 2003, the station recorded 5.53 inches of rain; on Jan. 18, 1998, the station saw 10.4 inches of snowfall.

"After I read it, I have to put it in their data books," Martin says. "We send these sheets in once a month."

Martin says, though, that he's gotten kind of interested in the weather trends and has started keeping a book of weather data for himself.

"George Drabenstot (Martin's predecessor on the job, who is now deceased) was a fanatic about this," Martin says. "He kept everything."

The weather information recorded at the water works plant is the official information for Huntington, Lothamer says, and is sent to the National Climactic Data Center in Atlanta, GA. The information can be accessed online at www4.ncdc.noaa.gov/cgi -win/wwcgi.dll?wwEvent ~Storms, offering information on various types of storms in specific counties from 1950 through 2008.

The weather observations sent in from the local observation station are used to learn more about floods, droughts and heat and cold waves, Lothamer says. They're also used to help in agricultural planning and assessment, engineering, environmental impact assessments, utilities planning, litigation and assessing the amount of rain and snow that has fallen, he says.

Because of its reliability and lengthy record of service, the Huntington water works site was selected to be one of only about 1,200 stations - out of 11,000 stations total - to be part of the United States Historical Climatology Network, which was developed to help detect regional climate change, Lothamer says.

Lothamer and Mike Sabones, meteorologist in charge at the Syracuse National Weather Service station, presented the water works plant the 75-year Institutional Award. The local observers also received a certificate of appreciation and a letter from Congressman Dan Burton, presented by Burton's special assistant, Tresa Baker.

Additional caption information Shown in the photo are (from left) Huntington Mayor Steve Updike, Mike Sabones, meteriologist in charge at the Syracuse NWS office; local weather observers Larry Covey and Ron Martin; Tresa Baker, special assistant to Congressman Dan Burton; and Brentley Lothamer, observation program leader with the NWS.