RICHMOND – Harold Thomson of Richmond has been a National Cooperative Observer for the National Weather Service for over 50 years. His grandfather, Harold Thomson, started as a weather observer in 1911. The honor was then passed down to Harold’s father Verno. Harold took over from Verno in 1968.
Thomson is required to record daily weather-related information from instruments near his Richmond home. The data usually consists of daily maximum and minimum temperatures, snowfall, and 24-hour precipitation totals.
For year’s Thomson read the wind speed by looking out of his kitchen window. He was given a guide telling him how to judge the wind speed. If the wind blows leaves of tree a certain way, he could judge the wind speed. If the wind blows shingles off the roof, he can estimate the wind speed.
“I don’t know how accurate it is, but they told me it was a good way to estimate the wind speed,” Thomson. “At one time I used two pine trees in my backyard to tell the wind speed.”
Things changed in 2011 when a big wind blew both of his wind gauges (pine trees) down. One went to the north and the other crashed through the kitchen window; it scared his wife pretty good. Now he uses an oak tree a little further away from the house.
Between 2004 and 2005, while they were serving a mission for their church, the National Weather Service came and switched their weather station into a digital weather station so Thomson can read the weather without going outside. Another member of the Thomson family was living in the house and reading the weather while they were gone.
Thomson still has to read the rain gauge, a 20-inch stainless steel-looking cylinder in his back yard, to tell how much rain they receive in Richmond on any given day. He said to measure the rain they use a lot of mathematics.
“The gauge measures up to two inches of rain water,” he said. “When it gets above the two inches, it runs on to the ground.”
Over the years there have been a couple of times he measured two inches of rain, but there haven’t been very many.
In 2011, Thomson and his family received the Family Heritage Award for 100 years of dedicated outstanding service from the National Weather Service
His wife, Gloria, said it’s quite an experience to have something like that in the family for over 100 years.
“It’s some kind of hobby,” she said. “All of our nine children can read the weather, and the family reads it when we are gone.”
For Thomson, it’s kind of a hobby and personal enjoyment.
“The reason I’ve been hanging on so long is I want it to keep it in the family,” he said. “I haven’t got any family in Richmond anymore, so I just keep doing it.”
At 83, he’s not sure how much longer he will do it.
“I may have a few years, but I’ll do it as long as I can,” Thomson said.
Lisa Verzella, the National Cooperative Observer Program Leader located in Salt Lake City, said nationally there are about 8,000 volunteer observers, and in Utah, 117.
“The Observers are extremely important to what we do,” she said. “I met Harold and Gloria two years ago when we gave them an award for 50 years of service. They are quite a team.”
She said most of the weather observers are centenarians and octogenarians and when they stop, they may be difficult to replace.
“It’s hard to replace them,” she said. “People are so busy now days it’s hard to find people that are so dedicated and make the time.”