National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Cooperative Observing Program - History


  • In 1776, Thomas Jefferson began to recruit volunteer weather observers throughout Virginia.   By 1800, there were volunteers in five other states across the newborn nation.   These states included Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and North Carolina.   In 1891, the network of voluntary weather observers sites across the country had grown to 2,000 stations.   In 1890, the growing volunteer force was taken over by the Smithsonian Institution.
  • It was not until 1953 that a plan was established to evenly blanket the nation with weather observers.   Dr. Helmut Landsberg of the Weather Bureau conducted a study with Iowa State University to establish a method of filling in the open spaces of this volunteer network.   As a result of this study, it was determined that there should be one weather station every 25 miles for estimating rainfall within an accuracy tolerance of ten percent.   By 1990, the network had expanded to 10,000 sites.   The most recent statistics estimate that there are 12,000 cooperative observers in the United States.
  • To date, the longest history as a Cooperative Weather Observer is 76 years for Mr. Edward G. Stoll of Arapahoe, Nebraska.   As a result of his service, he had a 50 year award named after him.   Mrs. Ruby Stufft, a volunteer weather observer from Elsmere, Nebraska, was the first recipient of the Ruby Stufft Award.   This award will be presented to any observer who volunteers 70 years of their time.   She recorded the weather for 70 years and became the first woman to reach that landmark.
  • In 1933 before a science advisory group, Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace told President Roosevelt that the Cooperative Program was one of the most extraordinary services ever developed, netting the public more per dollar expended than any other government service in the world.   That statement is still valid today.   It is estimated that the collective annual time provided by cooperative observers exceeds one million hours.   Only about a third of cooperative observers receive any compensation, however small, for their efforts.
 History of Weather Observations in San Diego