NOAA 2001-211
Contact: Ron Trumbla


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Cooperative Weather Observer Program, which dates back to the times of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, must be modernized to keep pace with its critical mission to the weather forecast process, the head of NOAA's National Weather Service said. The 11,700 volunteers in this program provide the only national source of temperature and precipitation data essential to accurate weather forecasts and the development and verification of U.S. climate prediction models.

At the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Albuquerque, N.M., retired Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of the National Weather Service, said the agency has proposed a multi-year initiative to expand the existing program and upgrade the equipment the volunteers use to monitor precipitation and other weather data.

"For some time, our observers have supported us, despite substandard equipment," Kelly said. "Using funds we received in FY 2001, we will be able to start replacing some of this outdated equipment. But the modernization initiative is a broader plan that will need additional funds if we are to maintain the viability of this important program."

As part of this broad based initiative, the National Weather Service is coordinating an interagency project to carry out network studies to identify weather and climate requirements of NOAA, its federal partners, and its constituents. The recommended improvements would be implemented during an eight-year period.

The National Research Council and the National Drought Policy Commission have given their strong support to this proposed initiative in recognition of the important contribution that cooperative observers make to the science of weather and climate forecasting.

Each day, more than 11,700 volunteers provide the surface observations that are key in improving short term weather forecasts, give early warning of severe weather events, provide early notice of developing situations with life-threatening potential, help establish climatological records, and also play a critical role in better long range climate predictions.

"The Weather Service couldn't get along without the cooperative observers," Kelly said. "It's important to recognize that even with our sophisticated technology, satellite data, remote sensing systems and the supercomputer, people are still the key factor in providing accurate and timely weather forecasts."

NOTE TO MEDIA: For more information about the Cooperative Weather Observer Program, visit: