Rural Missouri - March 2018 - 26

RM

| OUTDOORS

Observation Vocation
Weather watchers preserve and protect public
safety through longtime tradition
by Zach Smith | zsmith@ruralmissouri.coop

F

rom a hill above the small community of Girdner, Doris Pinckney Baten carries on a tradition
that dates back almost 400 years in the United States. Its importance goes largely unsung
and she's not compensated for her efforts, but Doris
isn't complaining. For her the simple act of reading
a thermometer and rain gauge carries a great deal of
personal significance.
Doris' status as a cooperative weather observer
for the National Weather Service began two generations earlier with the family of her late husband,
Ronnie Pinckney. His grandfather, Austin, was
weather watching in the late 1930s from his store
in Wasola when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
began working on Norfork Dam in Arkansas.
"He was already taking the weather and they
wanted someone to let them know how much rain
was coming down so they would know when to lower
the gates on the dam," Doris says. "They wanted to
know the rainfall there because it's one of the higher
points and everything runs east down to the lake."
The mantle of responsibility eventually passed
to Ronnie's father, Richard, and then his mother,
also named Doris. When her mother-in-law moved
to Oklahoma in 1972, Doris picked up where she
left off. Ever since she's been answering the age-old
question, "How much rain did we get?"
"Sometimes they call and say, 'How much are we
going to get?' " the White River Valley Electric Cooperative member says with a laugh. "And I say, 'I just
record what happens, I don't forecast it.' "
In 45 years Doris has seen a few changes to the
equipment she uses. The once common Stevenson
screens or Cotton Region Shelters - also sometimes
called beehives - are no longer used in favor of digital thermometers. Doris can take temperature readings indoors thanks to sensors and underground

cabling, but measuring rain and snow still means 230 of those in Missouri. But Thomas says the program still needs volunteers - particularly in the
pulling on her boots to check the gauge.
It may seem a humble task, especially for anyone communities of Dora, Seneca and Protem.
"It's harder to get replacements because as a sociwho has grown up on a farm, but the importance
of tracking precipitation in particular can't be over- ety we're moving around a lot more," Thomas adds.
stated when it comes to public safety. This becomes "It takes a certain personality type to do it. You have
especially true in the Ozarks, where low water cross- to be committed to it every day."
The weather service provides and sites the tried
ings are abundant and knowing rainfall and runoff
and true tools of standardized digital thermometers
helps predict when roads will become impassable.
"River forecast centers take that information and and 8-inch diameter rain gauges. All that's required
have an idea of how much the rivers will rise," says of the observer is to diligently check their instruThomas Olsen, the observer program leader who ments and file daily reports.
"I'm getting old and wore out, but this is somecoordinates with 75 volunteers across the Springfield station's 37-county area in Missouri and Kan- thing I can still do," Pete jokes. "The bad thing is in
sas. "They can estimate when the level will crest the winter if it's raining at 7 o'clock you better get
out there and measure your rain - and it can get
or start falling, or if it's a minor or
pretty cold."
major flood event. We want to give
Even with high-tech tools such as radar,
them the best data we can."
weather balloons and automated gauges
Precipitation is Pete Carnagey's
at the government's disposal, Thomas
specialty. The Ozark Electric Coopsays data provided by the observers still
erative member checks the metal can
plays an important role. Their measurein his yard near Everton every morning
Everton
ments help determine drought, verify
at 7 o'clock. During the winter he brings
radar readings and assist the Federal
it inside to melt down the accumulated
Girdner
Emergency Management Agency with
snow and ice so it can be measured.
relief requests.
"Half an inch will soak in the ground,
"There's nothing like a human
everything else runs off," Pete says,
being with a rain gauge who is measurpointing at a smattering of T's in his handwritten
records that indicate trace moisture. "When I first ing that each day," Thomas adds. "You have to do
started, if you had rainfall that was over half an it right, of course, but there's something about that
that's better than technology."
inch, you'd call it in and that was 50 cents."
As for Doris and Pete, their morning ritual conOn May 1 this past year, Pete also reached the
45-year milestone having recorded approximately tinues. "It's part of our life, you know," Doris says.
16,500 days worth of weather. Honored last year for "Because we have done it so long it's just what we
their service, Pete and Doris are in good company: do."
Missouri-born scientist George Washington Carver
For more information on the Cooperative Weather
was an observer for more than 30 years while at
the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Today there are Observer program contact Thomas Olsen at 417-864roughly 9,000 observers around the country with 8535 or email contact.sgf@noaa.gov.

Left: Pete Carnagey checks the rain gauge outside his home in Everton every morning, rain or shine. Observers' measurements help determine when rivers and roads
may flood. Right: Like Pete, Doris Pinckney Baten was honored last year with the Dick Hagemeyer Award for her 45 years of volunteer service.

26

RURAL MISSOURI | MARCH 2018



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2018

Contents
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Contents
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - 4
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Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Cover4
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