A Century Of Weather Records

Information still gathered manually

Published online: May 26, 2023 Articles John O'Connell, University of Idaho
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At 8 a.m. sharp every day of the year, staff at University of Idaho’s Aberdeen Research and Extension Center conduct a 30-minute chore that has been done unfailingly for more than 110 years.

Though the National Weather Service’s (NWS) fully automated weather station stands just a stone’s throw away, about a dozen Aberdeen crew members take turns manually recording meteorological readings from simple instruments housed within a small, fenced enclosure adjacent to their research fields.

Their morning ritual traces back to 1912 — the second year of operations at the Aberdeen research facility — and the handwritten logbooks they have produced throughout the decades represent one of Idaho’s lengthiest and most complete meteorological archives. They report the numbers monthly to NWS’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“It is public data used all over,” said Chad Jackson, operations manager in Aberdeen. “Some people ask, ‘Why in the world are you taking manual weather data when you have an automated weather station next to this?’ This is complete data, it’s always been done this way and it’s a continuous dataset. It takes a human eye to do some of these things.”

At the historic weather station, staff record the ambient temperature, soil temperature, precipitation, windspeed and snow-water equivalent. They use a tub of water to record water temperature and the rate of evaporation, providing a valuable tool to area water managers to help gage summer evaporative losses from nearby water bodies, such as American Falls Reservoir. They also jot down daily observations on cloud cover and winter observations on snow depth. Records from 1912 through 2010 specify the date of each season’s first killing frost — typically in mid-September. The information helped data users estimate the average growing season length.

The maximum precipitation recorded in a single day at the station was in 1952, when 2.41 inches of rain fell. The high temperature at the station was 104 degrees F, reached in 1931, 1934 and 2006. The station’s maximum single-day snowfall occurred on Jan. 24, 2017 — 13 inches. The coldest temperature recorded was negative 42 degrees F in 1922. The average annual precipitation at the station throughout the past century is 8.7 inches.

Land-grant universities such as U of I operate some of the longest-running weather stations in the country. U of I also operates a weather station dating back to the college’s early days in Moscow.

Records from the old Aberdeen facility are still routinely put to several important uses. The federal Bureau of Reclamation, for example, uses the data in its modeling, NWS uses it for climate forecasting and UI Extension includes it in a small grains report. U of I researchers also use the data for research.

“I personally have used it for determining weather trends and precipitation over historical amounts,” Jackson said.

One such research project involved using the data to correlate La Nina weather patterns with precipitation and disease levels. Jackson found that neither precipitation nor disease were strongly correlated with La Nina winters in Aberdeen.

Following an extremely wet August of 2014, during which grain farmers coped with widespread sprout damage, Jackson used weather station data on the number of wet days historically during that month to determine if it would be in the university’s best interests to start breeding grain varieties for sprout resistance.

“Basically, I figured out that it was once in 2,500 years that they have that much rainfall for that long of a duration in August. It was a real anomaly,” Jackson said, explaining breeding sprout-resistant grain varieties is unnecessary, if weather patterns remain consistent.

Recordings from the manual weather station are usually extremely close to the NWS automated station’s readings, which are updated every five minutes.