NOAA 2006-R268
Contact: Pat Slattery
NOAA News Releases 2006
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Recognizing 50 years of dedication, NOAA’s National Weather Service has named Morris and Margarette Schuurmans of Wagner, S.D., as 2006 recipients of the agency’s Thomas Jefferson Award for outstanding service in the Cooperative Weather Observer program. The award is the agency’s most prestigious, and only six are presented this year to deserving cooperative weather observers from around the country

“Cooperative observers are the bedrock of weather data collection and analysis,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Satellites, high-speed computers, mathematical models and other technological breakthroughs have brought great benefits to the nation in terms of better forecasts and warnings. But, without the century-long accumulation of accurate weather observations taken by volunteer observers, scientists could not begin to adequately describe the climate of the United States. We cannot thank the Schuurmans enough for their years of service to America.”

D. Greg Harmon, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service forecast office in Sioux Falls, will present the award to the Schuurmanses at a September 9, 2006, open house at the forecast office to recognize cooperative observers. Program manager Donald E. Morin of the Sioux Falls office nominated the couple for the award.

The NWS Cooperative Weather Observer Program has given scientists and researchers continuous observational data since the program’s inception more than a century ago. Today, some 11,700 volunteer observers participate in the nationwide program to provide daily reports on temperature, precipitation and other weather factors such as snow depth, river levels and soil temperature.

Currently a retired optometrist, Morris Schuurmans founded the Wagner observation site with his wife Margarette Jan. 1, 1956, recording daily temperature and precipitation. Boasting an uninterrupted reporting record, the Schuurmanses have been active in many civic roles in the community. A memorable contribution occurred Labor Day 1970 when Morris Schuurmans noted a distant storm approaching the community on a benign fall day. Aware of potential danger, he sounded warning sirens, which prompted revelers to leave a street carnival and a rodeo and find shelter minutes before the storm struck. Thanks to his quick actions, injuries were few and minor.

Weather records retain their importance as time goes by. Long and continuous records provide an accurate picture of a locale’s normal weather, and give climatologists and others a basis for predicting future trends. These data are invaluable for scientists studying floods, droughts and heat and cold wavers. At the end of each month, observers mail their records to the National Climatic Data Center for publication in “Climatological Data” or “Hourly Precipitation Data.”

The first extensive network of cooperative stations was set up in the 1890s as a result of an 1890 act of Congress that established the U.S. Weather Bureau. Many of the stations have even longer histories. John Campanius Holm’s weather records, taken without benefit of instruments in 1644 and 1645, were the earliest known recorded observations in the United States.

Many historic figures have also maintained weather records, including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson maintained an almost unbroken record of weather observations between 1776 and 1816, and Washington took weather observations just a few days before he died. The Jefferson and Holm awards are named for these weather observation pioneers.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and more than 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

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