Local forecasters often cite historical data to provide perspective on days the weather feels like it’s going to extremes. For example, in the sweltering summer sun they’ll point out that 106 degrees is the hottest temperature recorded in Mount Pleasant, and when the temperature drops below zero, they offer the frigid fact that 30 below is the coldest temperature on record.
The National Weather Service Forecast Office in Grand Rapids would have none of this information if it weren’t for what has happened on the Central Michigan University campus each day for the past 100 years.
NWS officials honored CMU for its 100-year partnership tracking Mount Pleasant weather as a NWS Cooperative Weather Observer at a special ceremony Sept. 19 in the Central Energy Facility.
“Gathering the weather information is just part of what we do,” said Steve Gill, a senior energy facility operator in CMU’s Central Energy Facility who the NWS recognized for his 30 years as a weather reporting leader. “You really don’t realize the impact it has until recognition events like this.”
Gill and five of his fellow employees rotate the responsibility to, at 6 every morning, check a monitor and log the day’s highest and lowest temperatures and venture outside to measure and record any precipitation. At the end of each month, Gill reports the monthly numbers to NWS-Grand Rapids.
The information gathered goes beyond providing meteorologists interesting trivia. According to the NWS, data are invaluable in learning more about the floods, droughts, heat and cold waves affecting us all. The data also are used in agricultural planning and assessment, engineering, environmental-impact assessment, utilities planning, and litigation.
The National Weather Service also named CMU a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador, a U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration initiative to strengthen partnerships with external organizations toward building community resilience in the face of increasing vulnerability to extreme weather and water events.
Brandon Hoving is a 2008 CMU graduate who serves as a NWS-Grand Rapids observing program leader. He majored in meteorology — CMU is the only university in the state to offer an undergraduate major in this area.
“I told my wife the other day that this was going to be a highlight of my career to come back to my alma mater and recognize the work they’ve done here,” said Hoving, who is one of five CMU alumni working at the NWS-Grand Rapids office. “When I was a student here, each day one of my professors would put the previous day’s high and low temperatures on the board, and I think he got the numbers from the CMU weather cooperative.”
The first-ever CMU weather report sent to the NWS was on Oct. 5, 1916. It was signed by R.D. Calkins, who was serving as geology department chair and is the namesake for CMU’s Calkins Hall. Fifty years ago, CMU President Judson Foust accepted a similar award recognizing the university’s 50th anniversary as a weather observer station.