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December 2, 2002

Lick Observatory honored for role in weather observation

By Tim Stephens

The National Weather Service has honored UC's Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton with a Length of Service Award for 120 years of daily weather observations and dedicated service to the United States. The award was presented on November 22 in the observatory's main building atop Mt. Hamilton.

Photo of award presentation
David Reynolds of the National Weather Service (far right) presents an award to Lick Observatory for 120 years of providing weather data to the agency. Accepting the award are (left to right) operations director Remington Stone and observatory staff Lotus Baker and Wendy Hanson. Baker and Hanson report the weather data from Mt. Hamilton as part of the National Weather Service Cooperative Observing Program.
Photo: National Weather Service

Presenting the award were National Weather Service Western Region director Vickie L. Nadolski and David W. Reynolds, meteorologist in charge of the San Francisco Bay Area National Weather Service Forecast Office. Accepting the award on behalf of the observatory was research astronomer and operations director Remington Stone.

The staff at Lick Observatory, as part of the National Weather Service Cooperative Observing Program, record the daily high and low temperatures, rainfall, and snowfall atop Mt. Hamilton. At the end of each month, this data is sent to the local National Weather Service Office in Monterey for quality control and then forwarded to the National Climate Center, where it is incorporated into the official climate record of the United States.

This cooperative effort has been ongoing with Lick Observatory since completion of the first dome in 1881. The first dome housed a small 12-inch telescope that was used to record the transit of Mercury, which launched scientific research on Mt. Hamilton. From 1943 to 1965, Mt. Hamilton weather observers were in charge of taking airway weather observations in support of the United States Air Mail. Landmarks on the slopes of Mt. Diablo, Loma Prieta, and Mt. Tamalpais were used in determining the top of the fog across the San Francisco Bay Area. The cities of San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco were also used to estimate the visibility.

Lick Observatory was the first major mountaintop observatory and continues to be an important research site. As part of the University of California, the telescopes and facilities on Mt. Hamilton serve as an observing station for faculty members and advanced students from the entire UC system. Observers live on Mt. Hamilton while using the telescopes. A resident group of staff, along with their families, form the year-round Mt. Hamilton population. The Lick Observatory astronomers, as well as the administrative and technical headquarters, are based on the UCSC campus.

The National Weather Service Cooperative Observing Program consists of 12,000 volunteer citizens and institutions observing and reporting weather information on a 24-hour basis. These cooperative observations form the backbone of temperature and precipitation records describing the climate of the United States.

Today's cooperative observers have proud traditions dating back to the first days of the nation. As early as 1797, Thomas Jefferson envisioned a nationwide network of weather observers with at least one observer per county.

The Cooperative Observing Program was formally established by the Organic Act of 1890 with the purpose of taking meteorological observations to "establish and record the climate conditions of the United States." In addition to meeting the original agriculturally oriented mission to describe the climate of the United States, today's cooperative observations support many other applications. These include climate change and variability; water management; drought assessment; presidential disaster declarations (heat, floods, etc.); crop yield forecasts; litigation; engineering, power plant and architectural design; recreation; flood zone determination; and insurance industry needs.

Satellites, high-speed computers, mathematical computer models of the atmosphere, 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 describe the climate of the United States.



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