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Olsons 'huge assets' to National Weather Service for observing, reporting data for 50 years

Don Olson and his wife, Marie, who live on a farm just outside the east edge of Montpelier, recently received the Family Heritage Award and the Edward H. Stoll Award for 50 years of service to the National Weather Service. The Olsons, who are retired farmers, volunteer their time to measure daily precipitation totals and report weather data.

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Don Olson stands Monday next to a weather station at his farm on the edge of Montpelier, N.D. Olson has been reporting weather from there for 50 years. John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

MONTPELIER, N.D. — A North Dakota couple who have been recording daily precipitation totals and reporting weather data at their rural home for 50 years are “huge assets” for the National Weather Service, according to Rick Krolak, NWS observing program leader.

“When you have observers like that it is rare that you have someone who has been doing it for this long and this consistently,” Krolak said. “It’s been every day for 50 years. They only take 15 to 20 minutes a day but that is a lot. He definitely fits the model co-op observer and volunteer for us.”

Don Olson and his wife, Marie, who live on a farm just outside the east edge of Montpelier, North Dakota, recently received the Family Heritage Award and the Edward H. Stoll Award for 50 years of service to the National Weather Service. The Olsons, who are retired farmers, volunteer their time to measure daily precipitation totals and report weather data.

“I never thought when we started doing it that it would last this long,” Don Olson said. “My wife does a good job. She goes out and checks the precipitation. We are a team.”

The Olsons are observers in the NWS Cooperative Observer Program who provide weather data to the NWS.

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Rolf Hanson, who is a cousin of Olson’s father, observed the weather and reported daily precipitation totals for the NWS for 30 years. When Hanson died in 1971, his wife asked Olson if he would take over the tasks.

“They moved the station over here to our house about a block and a half away, and I have been doing it ever since,” Olson said.

The Olsons have all daily records for weather data, except for one month, in the Montpelier area since 1940.

Krolak said taking daily observations of the weather is important because it builds a climate history for a certain location and area and provides data for computer models for flood forecasts.

“Of course, lots of folks use that information too,” he said. “Construction workers, planners and engineers. The list goes on and on. It is very important globally, not just locally.”

Olson said it is important to report whether or not an area received precipitation for the prices of grain and commodities.

This year, Olson has recorded 19.46 inches of precipitation up to Nov. 1 in the Montpelier area.

“That includes the little bit of snow we got last January, February and March,” he said. “We didn’t get much snow at all. June was really good and August was really good. That is what saved the beans in August.”

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Olson is also a weather spotter and calls the NWS with any reports of hail and wind damage during severe weather, Krolak said. Olson has informed people in the past about rising water levels in Beaver Creek.

“He goes well above and beyond taking daily precipitation readings for us,” he said. “He will call us with any storm reports, and that is how we verify our warnings and make decisions to issue another one. He is part of the ground troop network with all the weather spotters plus he is a co-op observer.”

Krolak said the NWS provides a Fisher Porter gauge to Olson. The Fisher Porter gauge digitally records precipitation every 15 minutes and saves three months worth of data.

During the winter, oil and antifreeze are put in the Fisher Porter gauge to measure the frozen precipitation.

“It (snow) will melt in the antifreeze and then we will get a weighted reading that's converted into hundredths even thousandths of an inch,” Krolak said. “He will send that in and then he just goes out there every month and downloads 30 days worth of data, one month worth of data, and he mails that into the office and we send that out into the climate center and we process that.”

The NWS also provides an 8-inch rain gauge to Olson that is used to measure precipitation daily. With the 8-inch rain gauge, Olson has to melt the snow himself to record the precipitation totals during the winter.

Krolak said Olson has both gauges to make comparisons between the two. He said the Fisher Porter gauge is usually placed around rivers or creeks and it holds more data, more precipitation and is lower maintenance.

“They serve the same purpose,” he said.

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He also measures and reports daily snowfall and snow depth on his farm.

Krolak said Olson is “very hands on” with maintenance of the NWS’ equipment.

“We go out there and we do the maintenance twice a year on those rain gauges,” Krolak said. “A lot of times he will go out there and do it himself. We try to make it so he doesn’t have to, but he goes out there and will do the maintenance himself.”

The Olsons received the Family Heritage Award and the Edward H. Stoll Award on Nov. 2 during a virtual award ceremony.

The Family Heritage Award is given to families who have at least 50 years of continuous cooperative weather observations, according to the NWS website. The award is presented in honor of Thomas Jefferson’s 1797 vision of a nationwide network of weather observers.

The Edward H. Stoll Award is given to an observer who has taken weather observations for 50 years. The award was created in 1975 in honor of Edward H. Stoll, who was an observer at Elwood, Nebraska, for more than 76 years and was the first to receive the award.

Olson also received the Thomas Jefferson Award in 2011 and the John Campanius Holm Award in 2000.

The Thomas Jefferson Award is the highest award the NWS presents to volunteer observers and only five are awarded annually. The John Campanius Holm Award honors cooperative weather observers for outstanding accomplishments in meteorological observations and only 25 are awarded annually.

Of the 80 observers that Krolak oversees, he said Olson is tied for the No. 1 observer in North Dakota.

“It is really tough to replace those folks who have been doing that for a long time,” he said.

Related Topics: PEOPLEJAMESTOWNNORTH DAKOTA
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