Every morning, before he goes to work at Daktronics, Jon Markuson checks on the weather.
So do most people. They look out the window to see if it’s rained, snowed, etc.
The difference: Markuson does it for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He has been the official weather recorder for Redwood Falls since last April.
Markuson’s activities are purely voluntary. He doesn’t get paid for taking the readings.
“Before I did this, I didn’t think people actually did this every day across the United States. I thought it was all done by machine,” he said.
“Automated airport data are always off. That’s why NOAA likes having human observers to clean the machines and clear them every day, after every storm.
“It seems so simple. It only takes five or 10 minutes to make the records every day, but it’s so important to so many people.”
Markuson, originally from Chaska, moved to Redwood Falls eight years ago.How does he keep track of Redwood’s weather?
Rain is easy to measure. He just empties a steel rain gauge in his backyard into a special plastic tube, then measures the amount with a ruler accurate to the hundredth of an inch.
Markuson has three ways to measure snowfall.
1) He takes the steel rain gauge in his back yard, turns it upside down and pours the snow into a plastic container. After melting the snow in his microwave, he measures it the way he does rain.
2) Laying on Markson’s back yard is a white board, about a foot wide by a foot and a half long, for snow to fall on. Why white? Because the snow doesn’t melt as quickly as it would on a darker board.
Markuson goes out with a ruler and measures the snowfall, then sweeps off the snow for the next day’s measurement. If it’s a heavy snow, Markuson will check the white board every several hours.
3) Multiple measurements. “I take a measuring stick and take measurements from five different spots in my yard.”
NOAA equipped Markuson with an automatic temperature recorder in his back yard, accurate to the second and hard-wired to the house so it doesn’t need batteries that run down.
NOAA officials very carefully found the exact spot in Markuson’s back yard where the temperatures would be most accurate.
The thermometer couldn’t be in tree or building shade, and had to have natural landscaping (grass or snow) around it.
Page 2 of 2 - “The thermometer at the airport is on asphalt, so it’s readings are up to five degrees off mine,” Markuson said.
In addition, Markuson also makes notes about any fog, wind, or other weather phenomena he sees. With hail, he needs to keep track of size and duration.
Markuson became Redwood’s official weather observer the old fashioned way: he answered an ad.
“The previous weather observer was retiring, and I saw the NOAA was looking for someone to be a ‘voluntary co-op observer,” said Markuson.
When he contacted NOAA, one of the first questions he was asked was, “Would you like to take over for us for the next 30 years?”
“They’re looking for someone who’s going to be around for awhile,” said Markuson. “The last person who did this in Redwood Falls retired from it after 35 years.
“In rural areas, the volunteers are pretty far apart. The closest one I know of to Redwood is in Marshall,” Markuson said.
What happens if Markuson wants to go on vacation?
“The (thermometer) records for up to 35 days. For rain, NOAA lets me do multi-day accumulations, or I’ll have someone else come over and take the measurements,” he said.
What got Markuson interested in weather?
“My whole life I’ve been dealing with Minnesota weather. It has a little bit of everything,” he said. “It’s always there, and I like filling people in on it.”
Two give just two examples, area farmers keep track of precipitation amounts to help determine their planting in the spring, while insurance agents keep track of his readings on hail and other damage-producing storms.
It turns out there’s a ;lot more people interested in his recordings than he suspected.
On his FaceBook page, Markuson created a group for Redwood weather enthusiasts, who he keeps updated with daily news.
“I thought 10 or 11 people might be interested,” he said. It now has over 100 subscribers.
“I didn’t think there were that many people interested in the weather,” he laughed.