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The National Weather Service Cooperative Program:
A Perspective

What is the job of a cooperative observer?

Being an NWS cooperative observer can be a demanding job. To provide accurate and complete weather data, the NWS requires observations seven days a week, 365 days a year. This does not mean that someone has to always be monitoring the weather; the NWS provides instruments to monitor temperature and precipitation. However, someone should be available to record the daily maximum and minimum temperature, the daily precipitation total, and other hydrometeorological data. This generally is done around 7:00 a.m., but the observer can shift observation times to fit his/her schedule.

The observers record the information on a form that they mail monthly to the local NWS office. NWS personnel review the data for quality assurance and then forward it to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, North Carolina.

Why is the Cooperative Observer Program needed?

In protecting life and property, the National Weather Service (NWS) issues severe weather watches and warnings. Thus, the collection of timely and accurate weather data is vital. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ), of which the NWS is a part, maintains a database of climatic weather information. The NWS also uses this climatic data to prepare medium and long-range forecasts.

The Cooperative Observer Program or "coop program," helps NOAA and the NWS with the severe weather program and the maintenance of the long-term climatic database. The coop program is the backbone of the United States climatological database. Cooperative observers also frequently act as severe storm spotters, telephoning in reports of hazardous weather in the winter and summer.

What equipment does the cooperative observer use?

Depending on how much service is expected, equipment can vary from an 8-inch, non-recording plastic or metal rain gage, to a full coop station with an electronic thermometer and recording precipitation gage. The NCDC determines the placement and type of Cooperative Weather Observers (CWOs) as requested by the NWS Representative (NWSREP). Generally they evenly space cooperative stations in relatively flat terrain (more than 30 miles apart) but may be closer together in hilly terrain or under special circumstances. The most common stations are the "C" order stations, which support real-time and near real-time severe weather operations. Typically, these observers have had severe weather spotter training and have a non-recording rain gage. "A" and "B" order stations are for longer-term climatological and hydrologic operations and have less contact with an NWSREP.

The NWSREP will deliver, set up, and maintain the necessary equipment. Typically, the Cooperative station consists of a set of Maximum/Minimum thermometers or a Max/Min Temperature System (MMTS) and a rain gage. There are two basic types of rain gages - recording and non-recording. Non-recording rain gages consist of a metal tube approximately 8 inches in diameter and 3 feet tall, and contain a removable funnel and measuring tube. Placing a calibrated stick into the tube measures precipitation, by observing where the water marks the stick and recording the data.

A recording rain gage has either a drum that holds a paper chart or a drive mechanism that punches holes in a strip chart to record precipitation. At the end of each month, the observer sends the charts to the local NWS office. NWS personnel check the data for quality and accuracy, and then forward the reports to the NCDC.

What happens with the daily information collected by the observers?

The observers transmit the data to the local NWS office via telephone using a PC based system called PC-ROSA, or telephone the information in via a voice system. NWS personnel use the near real-time data to support the day-to-day operations of the NWS in its forecast and warning decisions.

What kind of training is involved?

Training consists of on site, hands-on instruction with the designated cooperative observer and their backup. An NWS employee usually provides training on the same day of the equipment installation. The training takes about one hour to complete. If necessary, the NWS coop representative provides additional training upon request. Advanced training includes discussions on basic equipment maintenance. The NWS employee also provides the observer with a name ("point of contact") and a phone number for assistance for maintenance and repair issues.

If you have any more questions or would like to get involved in the Elko COOP program, please give us a call at (775) 778-6716 or Email us and we will gladly obtain the information you request.