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Climatological History

United States and North Dakota

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Major Events in the United States Weather and Climatic History
John W. Enz, Professor Emeritus, Dept of Soil Science, ND State University
April 10, 2007


1644 - 1813:    Weather Diaries—Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson.

1814:               U.S. Army Surgeon General directs medical corps to gather weather data at forts. 

1870:               A National Weather Program was started within the U.S. Signal Corps.

1881:               Governors urged to establish state weather services.  ND statehood in 1889.

1890:               National Weather Program transferred to USDA.   Renamed US Weather Bureau.

1893:               Cooperative Weather Network authorized within the USDA Weather Bureau.  Merged with existing state networks in 1895 for standardization.

1941:               Weather Bureau transferred to U.S. Dept Commerce (USDC).

1952:               National Weather Records Processing Center (WRPC) moved to Asheville, North Carolina in January.         

1954:               Dr. Helmut Landsberg started the U.S. Weather Bureau’s National State Climatologist Program.  

1965:               USDC reorganized;   Environmental Science Services Administration formed to oversee weather and climate. 

1966:               Weather Bureau renamed the ESSA National Weather Service (NWS), and National Data Center in Ashville NC renamed the ESSA Environmental Data Service.

1970:               ESSA was renamed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

1973:               National State Climatologist Program terminated.  Governors urged to establish state funded State climatologist Programs. 

1976:               American Association of State Climatologists (AASC) organized.  The Environmental Data Service was renamed the National Climatic Center.

1978:               National Climate Program Act passed by Congress after years of effort by many climatologists, but it was never funded.  National Climate Program Office (NCPO) was created. 

1981:               North Central (NC) Regional Research Committee on Agricultural Meteorology-Climatology (NC-94) obtained grant from the NCPO to establish a Regional Climate Center (RCC) as a 5-year demonstration project.   It was established by bid at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS).

1983:               The National Climatic Center was renamed the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

1986:               The RCC demonstration project was successful.   NCPO worked to establish similar centers across the country.  The effort succeeded, but I don’t know the year.  

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With a North Dakota Flavor
John W. Enz, Professor Emeritus, Dept of Soil Science, ND State University
April 10, 2007

Acknowledgement:   When I became the North Dakota State Climatologist in 1978 I began searching for historical information on the National State Climatologist Program because of the turmoil its 1973 termination had caused.  I am indebted to Paul J. Waite, former Iowa State Climatologist, and one of the organizers of the American Association of State Climatologists (AASC), for sending me a copy of his manuscript, ‘The Rises and Falls of Climatology’.  It provided me with insight and information from 1940 to 1975.  Other members of the AASC organizing committee were Arlo Richardson, Robert Muller, and Fred Nurnberger.

Climatology Begins in the United States:  A National Weather Program was started within the U.S. Signal Corps in 1870.  In 1890 it was transferred to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and renamed the USDA Weather Bureau.  One of its charges was to measure and report on the climate of our nation.  To fulfill this mission the Cooperative Weather Network (Co-op) was started in 1893.  The Co-op Network consisted of volunteer observers across the nation who would read and record the maximum, minimum, and current temperature, precipitation amount, and comments at the same time every day.  The Weather Bureau provided the instrumentation and installed it near the volunteers’ homes.  In 1895 the Co-op Network was combined with existing state weather networks for standardization.

Climatology Emphasis Waning:  Aviation’s popularity increased rapidly throughout the 1920s and 1930s causing increased demand for aviation weather forecasting.  As a result new weather observation stations were established at airports to support aviation, including one at Fargo’s Hector Airport in 1934.  The Weather Bureau’s transition to aviation emphasis was evident when the agency was transferred from the USDA to the U.S. Department of Commerce (USDC) in 1941.  As a result interest in climatology and climate monitoring steadily waned.  

World War II exacerbated this trend because of aviation’s tremendous importance to the war effort.  Weather research and training weather forecasters were high priorities resulting in major discoveries and advances in weather forecasting.  Following the war a copious supply of trained meteorologists were available to meet the demand for forecasters at major airports.  Moving the Moorhead MN Weather Bureau Office to Fargo’s Hector Airport on February 1, 1942 was an early part of this trend.  Weather Bureau interest and emphasis on climatology steadily declined throughout the 1940s and early 1950s as aviation interest increased.  

Climatology Renewed:  A 1953 Advisory Committee on Weather Services’ report to the Secretary of Commerce described the nation’s declining climate program.  They reported that the once proud, internationally-acclaimed U.S. Climate Program had few resources, poor leadership, and was dying a slow, almost lingering death.  They noted that during the last 10 years it had deteriorated into nothing more than a data collection, tabulation, and archival business.  Their recommendation was that climatological analysis efforts and the application of climatic data for the nation’s businesses and commerce should be on par with day-to-day forecasting efforts. 

After this long period of neglect, the era of modern applied climatology began in 1954 when Dr. Helmut E. Landsberg, an internationally renowned climatologist, was named Director of the Weather Bureau’s Climatological Services Division.  He moved quickly and decisively.  In August, 1954 he started the National State Climatologist Program within the Weather Bureau.  This program placed a trained, qualified State Climatologist (SC) in the lead Weather Bureau Forecasting Office of every state to oversee the local collection of high quality climatic data from the Co-op Network, and provide local climatic services.  The Weather Records Processing Center which had moved to Asheville NC in 1952 was renamed the National Data Center (NDC) and served as the new central depository and processing facility for the nation’s climatic data.  

Exciting Forecasting Programs Compete With Climatology:  Around this same time many other programs such as severe storms forecasting and a hurricane forecasting center were vying for attention.  The demand for more weather radars and trained operators, and the beginnings of a weather satellite program following the successful launch of Sputnik in 1957 stressed Weather Bureau funding and personnel.  These new programs caused a reorganization of the USDC in 1965 that resulted in the creation of the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) to oversee weather and climate operations.  In January, 1966 ESSA changed the Weather Bureau’s name to the National Weather Service (NWS), and the National Data Center was renamed the Environmental Data Service (EDS).    

After Dr. Landsberg left the NWS in 1966 these new challenging and exciting programs competed for ESSA funding with the more mundane climatology programs.  Subsequent leaders of the Climatological Services Division were not able to maintain their funding which led to budget constraints and eventually caused the NWS to stop filling SC positions.  Local MIC’s were forced to designate in-house staff to fill the SC role and maintain the Co-op Network, but data quality suffered.  In 1970 ESSA was reorganized and became the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

State Climatologists Terminated:  Due to increasing budget pressures Dr. Robert M. White, NWS Administrator, announced in March, 1973 that the National SC Program would be terminated effective April 13, 1973.  In a letter, Dr. White urged all State Governors to continue the SC program with state funding.  However, such action required legislative approval, a slow process in most states.  A few states developed SC programs, but in most cases personnel from the states’ Land Grant Universities volunteered to take over some of the former SC’s responsibilities.    

Data Disaster Averted:  This could have been a major disaster for the Co-op Network, but the NOAA Environmental Data Service (EDS) moved quickly to establish contacts with the SC volunteers and NWS Offices in order to keep the Co-op data flowing.  In 1975 and 1976, the new state funded and volunteer SC’s were invited to EDS (renamed National Climatic Center (NCC), Jan, 1976) in Asheville NC for orientation and informational meetings.  However, at the 1976 meeting, SC’s learned that the NWS also planned to drop financial support for the Co-op Network which would have crippled the nation’s ability to adequately monitor the climate.   

State Climatologists Organized:  Following this meeting the new and volunteer SC’s organized to form the American Association of State Climatologists (AASC).  As their first priority the AASC prepared and sent a document describing the importance of the Co-op Program and the consequences of abandoning it to the Secretary of Commerce.  Although the network was saved, funding and support have continued to wane.  Paul Waite stated, “This was probably the first time that climatologists, instead of meteorologists, were actively representing the interests of climatologists and applied climatology in the United States.”   Eventually more states approved SC positions within state agencies or universities, while in other states a university often assigned a faculty member part-time SC responsibilities.   

National Climate Program Act:   California U.S. Representative George Brown led a 1977 attempt to renew state climatology services in the United States.  The AASC helped write the bill that he introduced in the House of Representatives.  Although It passed the House, strong NOAA opposition probably caused its defeat in the Senate despite the AASC lobbying efforts.  In 1978 a similar bill called the National Climate Program Act was passed by the U.S. Congress.  It established a National Climate Program Office (NCPO), but no other funding was included.  Despite several subsequent efforts by a few politicians and the AASC it was never fully funded.   

Regional Climate Centers Slowly Evolved:  In 1981 the North Central (NC) Regional Research Committee on Agricultural Meteorology-Climatology (NC-94) obtained a grant from the NCPO to establish a Regional Climate Center as a 5-year demonstration project.  It was established by bid at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) in Campaign IL under the supervision of the NC-94 Committee.  Coincidentally the University of Nebraska established a regional agricultural computer network (AgNet) that scientists in the high plains states could use to run various research and extension models.  Since weather data were often used as input, after a few years AgNet appeared to be operating nearly like a regional climate center for the high plains states. 

The RCC demonstration project ended successfully in 1986 thanks to the people at ISWS.  The NCPO was pleased with the results and worked to establish similar centers across the country.  During the next few years the RCC idea gained traction, found funding, and eventually resulted in the formation of six RCC’s.  Today they are supported and administered by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) which prior to 1982 was called the NCC.  The RCC’s provide computer expertise and processing facilities, climatic data, and other support for State Climatologists, and the general public. 

Co-op Network Still Inadequate:  Despite many adversities, the Co-op network still exists today, but it is woefully inadequate for current and future needs.  During the past 20 years support for the network has waxed and waned.  The NWS has made numerous promises to modernize it, but in every case, budget or other considerations have delayed or derailed the plans.  The most recent loss of support occurred in June, 2006 just before the AASC annual meeting.  As a result the AASC has drafted another document describing the necessity of developing a new automated and updated National Weather Observing Network, and has sent it to appropriate federal administrators. 

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And A Little Bit More
John W. Enz, Professor Emeritus, Dept of Soil Science, ND State University
April 10, 2007

Brief Federal Background:  The U.S. National Weather Program was started within the U.S. Signal Corps in 1870.  It was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1890 where its name was changed to the Weather Bureau.  One of its charges was to measure and report on the climate of our nation.  To fulfill this mission the Cooperative Weather Network (Co-op) was authorized within the USDA Weather Bureau in 1893.  The Section Director or later, the Meteorologist in Charge (MIC) of each state’s lead Weather Bureau Office was responsible for their Co-op Network and climatic data.  A more detailed explanation of federal events is available in the accompanying document entitled;  An Historical Look At Climatology In the U.S.

B. H. Bronson, Section Director of the Bismarck Weather Bureau Office was in charge of North Dakota Climatology from 1897 – 1905.  He was followed by Section Directors, Orris W. Roberts who served from 1906 – July, 1939 and Frank J. Bavendick (August, 1939 – August, 1954).  During this time Bavendick in cooperation with the ND State Water Commission authored two booklets (1946 and 1952) describing North Dakota’s climate and weather. 

National State Climatologist Program Begins:   With the formation of the National State Climatologist Program in August, 1954, Frank J. Bavendick also became the first designated North Dakota State Climatologist (SC) serving from August, 1954 - October, 1959 in Bismarck.

A Muddy Period in ND State Climatologist History:  Unfortunately from late 1959 thru 1975 records of who served as the State Climatologist, and why the SC position moved to Fargo were minimal.  An anonymous person, apparently around the mid-70s, visited with several former NWS and North Dakota State University (NDSU) employees to determine the SC’s and their length of service.  They included;  Vern Hendrikson, long-time MIC at the Fargo NWS station; Carl Sanderson and Keith Blessom, former North Dakota SC’s during this period;  and Dr. Enoch B. Norum, Chair, Department of Soil Science, NDSU.  This anonymous person left some working papers and a partial manuscript, from which I gleaned most of the information for this period. 

After Frank Bavendick left the SC position in October, 1959, it was filled by Stanford R. Miller until  March, 1961.  The office was vacant from March until August, 1961 when  Alfred A. Skrede took over, serving until October, 1964.  He was followed by Acting SC, Carl J. Sanderson from November, 1964 – January, 1965, and then Mr. Herman Stommel took over as SC until August, 1967.  

State Climatologist Moves to Fargo:  Prior to 1967,  Dr. Enoch B. Norum initiated discussions with the NWS on moving the North Dakota State Climatologist Office to NDSU in Fargo.  Dr. Norum was convinced that collocating the State Climatologist with the NDSU Agricultural Experiment Station would greatly improve the productivity of both.   NDSU’s research and service to the state’s agricultural industry would benefit from more timely and knowledgeable use of climatic data.  The State Climatologist would better understand what types of climatic data and information were most important to agriculture, and would have access to NDSU’s excellent mainframe computer facilities for data analyses.  Dr. Norum’s argument prevailed and the SC’s Office was moved from Bismarck to the Department of Soil Science, NDSU in August, 1967.  Coincidentally this was about the same time NWS administrators may have been filling SC positions with in-house personnel because funds for qualified SC’s were limited. 

First Fargo Based SC:  The first State Climatologist located at NDSU was Keith Blessom, the Fargo NWS Co-op Network Program Manager, who also served as SC from August – November, 1967.  He was followed by Arlon Sneider from November, 1967 -  November, 1968.   Ray Jensen was the State Climatologist from November, 1968 – June, 1972.  During this time Jensen was also a Ph.D. graduate student in the Department of Soil Science, working on measuring and evaluating the effect of seasonal water deficits on barley.  He completed his research and received his degree in May,1971.  Jenson, with funding help from the State Water Commission, authored a comprehensive bulletin entitled “Climate of North Dakota” shortly before he left the position in June, 1972.  Following Jensen, Keith Blessom again assumed the SC duties from June until August, 1972.  He was followed by someone named Bailey who served from August, 1972 until February, 1973, but there is no other information about him.  Keith Blessom was again named SC from February until April, 1973.  

National State Climatologist Program Terminated:  The National State Climatologist Program was terminated by the NWS in April, 1973.  After termination the responsibilities and duties related to the SC and the Co-op Network were assigned to the local Fargo NWS Forecast Office with no increase in personnel.  However in most states local Land Grant University personnel volunteered to take over some of the State Climatologist functions. 

NDSU Agricultural Meteorologist Volunteers to Assume Some SC Responsibilities:  Dr. Juanito M. Ramirez, an Agricultural Meteorologist in the Department of Soil Science, NDSU volunteered to assume some of the North Dakota SC responsibilities, and was recognized as such by the NOAA Environmental Data Service (EDS).  Dr. Ramirez had earlier published ND Extension Bulletins on temperature and precipitation and was familiar with climatology outreach in the state.  Through a 1974 arrangement with the NWS, the former North Dakota State Climatologist's records and data files were given to the Department of Soil Science.  National Weather Service personnel continued to maintain the cooperative stations at this time.  Dr. Ramirez served as the North Dakota SC beginning in April, 1973 until he left the university in April, 1977.

Dr. John W. Enz, an agricultural climatologist was hired by the NDSU Soil Science Department in November, 1977 to replace Ramirez, and was assigned a few of the State Climatologist responsibilities.  The SC appointment was formalized by the newly named NOAA National Climatic Center (NCC), formerly the EDS, in January, 1978.  Since Enz had no Extension Service appointment a new Applied Climatology and Service project was initiated January 1, 1979 to legitimize the State Climatologist’s new climatic data and information advisory service and the maintenance of the ND climatic data base in the Department of Soil Science. 

North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network (NDAWN) Begins:  Enz started the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network (NDAWN) with six automated stations in 1989 to provide accurate, timely, and reliable weather data and crop management information for North Dakotans.  Today it consists of 70 stations distributed throughout the state and in border regions of surrounding states (http://ndawn.ndsu.nodak.edu).   Enz served as State Climatologist from January, 1978 until his retirement in September, 2006.  He remained active as SC until his replacement arrived in January, 2007.

New State Climatologist:  Dr. F. Adnan Akyüz  was hired in January, 2007 by the NDSU Dept. of Soil Science to replace Enz as NDSU Climatologist, ND State Climatologist, and NDAWN Director.

North Dakota State Climatologists at a Glance

    Name                          Time  of Service                              Position

B. H. Bronson             1897 - 1905                            NWS Section Director, Bismarck
Orris W. Roberts        1906 - Jul 1939                      NWS Section Director, Bismarck
Frank J. Bavendick     Aug 1939 – Aug 1954           NWS Section Director, Bismarck

Frank J. Bavendick     Sep 1954 - Oct 1959           State Climatologist, Bismarck
Stanford R. Miller        Oct 1959  - Mar 1961           State Climatologist, Bismarck
Alfred A. Skrede          Aug 1961- Oct 1964             State Climatologist, Bismarck
Carl J. Sanderson       Nov 1964 - Jan 1965            Acting SC, Bismarck
Herman Stommel       Jan 1965 – Aug 1967           State Climatologist, Bismarck

State Climatologist Office moved from the NWS Office, Bismarck ND to North Dakota State University in Fargo ND in August, 1967.

Keith Blessom            Aug 1967 - Nov 1967           NWS Coop Program Manager, Fargo
State Climatologist, Fargo
Arlon Sneider              Nov 1967 -  Nov 1968          NWS State Climatologist, Fargo
Ray Jensen                 Nov 1968 – Jun 1972           NWS State Climatologist, Fargo
Keith Blessom            Jun 1972 – Aug 1973           NWS Coop Program Manager, Fargo
State Climatologist, Fargo
Bailey                          Aug 1972 – Feb 1973           No other information
Keith Blessom            Feb – Apr 1973                    NWS Coop Program Manager, Fargo
State Climatologist, Fargo

The National State Climatologist Program was terminated in April 1973.  Dept. of Soil Science Faculty, NDSU have subsequently volunteered or been assigned  some of the SC duties.

Juanito M. Ramirez     Apr 1973 - Apr 1977             Ag. Meteorologist, NDSU & SC
John W. Enz               Jan 1978 - Sep 2006            Ag. Climatologist, NDSU & SC
F. Adnan Akyüz           Jan 2007 - Current               Climatologist, NDSU & SC