Weathermen: Operators Volunteer for National Weather Service Program

Minnesota treatment plant superintendent has been keeping National Weather Service data for 45 years
Weathermen: Operators Volunteer for National Weather Service Program

At the wastewater treatment plant in Owatonna, Minnesota, a city of about 25,000 people in the southern part of the state, operators have to pay attention to more than plant operations. Each day, the staff also records precipitation and temperature highs and lows, which are then sent to the National Weather Service.

“All of the operators here at the treatment plant will gather that data from time to time,” says Dean Nelson, plant superintendent. “It’s just part of the daily tasks.”

Nelson recently received the Dick Hagemeyer Award, marking 45 years with the NWS Cooperative Observer Program. The program, established in 1890, includes about 10,000 volunteers across the country who record and report weather data daily to the NWS. Many are longtime observation sites, with only about 200 observers resigning each year. The Owatonna plant has been an observation site since the late 1930s, says Nelson. He has been with the city for 45 years, serving as plant superintendent since 1989. Other longtime plant employees have also been recognized by the NWS with service milestone awards for assisting with weather records.

“We have a rain gauge and a digital thermometer. Basically, we measure precipitation, the highs and lows, and snowfall amounts,” Nelson says. “Every day, either myself or another operator will take those measurements and record them on an electronic form that’s sent to the NWS. It’s all online now. Years ago everything was recorded on a paper form that we mailed. We didn’t report daily back then. We kept track of everything for the month and at the end of the month sent in the form.”

Treatment plant sites are prevalent within the NWS program. Nelson says many of his Minnesota colleagues collect the same data for the NWS. It’s been a part of his job duties in Owatonna since Day 1, so major weather events of the past 45 years tend to become one big blur.

“There have been some big snow storms and some floods, but they just become a memory after a certain amount of time,” he says.


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