Weather Watchers

March 25, 2019

Originally appeared in The Land

By Tim King

Weather WatchersFor over the last 133 years, somebody has checked the Morris weather station on more than 48,000 days. Generally, at 8 a.m., somebody has checked the temperature; measured the rain or snow fall; and measured other weather data such as soil temperature and frost depth. On all the days, starting on April 15, 1885, dedicated weather monitors have only missed checking the station 4 percent of the time. So says Curt Reese and Heidi Olson-Manska who today, along with Joel Ekberg and Tyson Bartell, are responsible for checking the station at the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center near Morris, Minn.

“This is one of the highest completion rates of weather records in North America,” Olson-Manska and Reese said.

The station was started by the U.S. Army Signal Corps on land that is now part of the University of Minnesota’s campus. At the time, there was a school for Native Amerian children there. Eventually, the University of Minnesota opened an agricultural high school and an experiment station at the location.

Throughout that period, dedicated monitors continued to check the weather station and compile data. 

“They even collected data during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic,” Curt said. “They say the flu killed two students at the school.”

They collected data on May 20, 1892 when one inch of snow fell. That’s the area’s latest recorded snowfall, Heidi and Curt point out. They collected in January 1887 when the average daily temperature for the month was minus 8.4 F. And, thanks to the unstoppable data collectors, historians know the earliest snow fall in the Morris area was on September 25, 1912 when two inches blanketed the ground.

The weather may have been different then, Curt says. Referring to an old photo which indicates where on campus the original weather station was, Curt points to the horizon.

“It’s all prairie and no trees,” he said. “Today there are lots of trees.”

Curt speculates that the human-made changes in the landscape altered the weather in ways we may not understand.

The weather station was moved from the college campus to the WCROC, above Pomme de Terre River, in 1973. In 1975 a January blizzard, with winds up to 70 miles per hour, dumped a foot of snow on the ground. And in 1984, the annual precipitation record of 34.1 inches was set.

Now days, some measurements are automated. But others, such as snowfall and measuring frost depth with the frost tube, are taken manually. Come rain or minus 20 temperatures, the Morris weather crew will be out collecting the data. It’s a proud tradition. 

Access WCROC weather records.