Wisconsin State Climatology Office
 John Young, Director & Professor Emeritus
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History of Wisconsin State Climatology Office

The current Wisconsin State Climatology Office can trace its history back to the late 19th century when the weather observations made across the state were collected, tabulated, and summarized for the public.

EARLY HISTORY

While weather and climate data were collected during the early and mid 19th century across Wisconsin by the post surgeons with the US Army Medical Corps, the observers for the Smithsonian Institution and the volunteer observers with the US Army Signal Service, these data were not readily available in a useful form as of this writing. (Currently, efforts are being made at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center to digitize and run quality control on the data from the early manuscripts as part of the Climate Database Modernization Program (CDMP) ; see status of CDMP at CDMP 19th Century Forts and Voluntary Observers Database Build Project)

The predecessor to the US Weather Bureau and the National Weather Service was a weather unit in the US Army Signal Service, established in 1870.  The main mission of this organization was to monitor the weather primarily along the coasts of the US, including the Great Lakes.  The development of a climate observing network was slow.  By the late 1870s, most of the weather networks, including the Smithsonian and the US Army's Medical Service, were combined into the US Army Signal Service.  During the 1880s, state weather services were developed.  Volunteer observers, including those from Wisconsin, submitted their observations to the chief of the state service, who published monthly summaries. The monthly state summaries were transmitted to the Chief Signal Office for inclusion in the Monthly Weather Review and in the Annual Report of the Chief of the Signal Service.

The national weather service was transferred by the Organic Act of 1890 from the US Army Signal Service to the US Department of Agriculture, where it was renamed the US Weather Bureau (USWB), effective in July 1891.  As part of the Organic Act of 1890,  the USWB was mandated the mission of providing weather and climate guidance for agricultural interests.  The Cooperative Observer Network was a direct result of this mission.

In 1892  the state weather and climate service was established in Wisconsin. Subsequently, the State Weather Service Division became the Climate and Crop Service. By 1895, the USWB decided to standardize state networks and publications. In 1896, the Wisconsin section office in  Milwaukee was collecting weather and climate data for Wisconsin and publishing the monthly Wisconsin Weather and Crop Journal, a predecessor of the Climatological Data now published by the National Climate Data Center (NCDC). 

As part of the establishment of the civilian U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890, one office in each state was designated the "Section Center."  The duty assigned these centers were to supervise the cooperative network and to publish the observations in "Climatological Data."  By virtue of being in the state's largest city, the Milwaukee Office of the US Weather Bureau was designated the Section Center for Wisconsin.  

In July 1891, Willis L. Moore became the Official in Charge of the Milwaukee Office and hence was in charge of furnishing the report for the Wisconsin state weather service. Except for some short intervals when he was assigned elsewhere, he remained in this position until 1895 when he became the head of the US Weather Bureau.

Wilford M. Wilson became the Wisconsin Section Director in January 1896 and remained at Milwaukee through December 1902, then John W. Schaeffer served as temporary director for two months before Wilson returned.

In 1896 the Wisconsin Section office in Milwaukee became the Climate and Crop Service, with subsequent changes in name in 1906 to the Climatological Service.  This service was organized by sections that corresponded to individual states.  In 1909 the Climatological Service became to the Climatological Division.

Later, the Meteorologist in Charge (MIC) of each state's lead Weather Bureau Office was responsible for maintaining their Coop Network and collecting the climatic data. The Milwaukee Office of the US Weather Bureau was the office responsible for collecting the weather data from the stations around Wisconsin and assisting in the assembling of the state's Climatological Data publication.  As the Climatological Service Center for Wisconsin,  the Milwaukee USWB City Office handled the Cooperative Observers' forms until 1948. After that most of the Section Center work was moved to regional centers called "Weather Record Processing Centers." First  seven regional centers were established, which were then consolidated to three, and finally in 1962 all processing was centralized at Asheville, NC. The SC was responsible for writing the Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin and collecting Storm Data, since no one else wanted those jobs.

Prior to 1953 most of the business of what is now the Wisconsin State Climatology Office (SC) office was handled by the Madison office of the USWB at North Hall. In charge of the office were James Bartlett (1904-1907), Eric Miller (1908-1944), Rupert Batz (1944-1946), George Jenkins (1946-1948), and Lothar Joos (1948-1955). Eric Miller in particular published many meteorological and climatological studies of Wisconsin and did years of radio broadcasts, making him something of a local folk hero in Wisconsin.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE MODERN STATE CLIMATOLOGY PROGRAM

Under the guidance of Helmut Landsberg, the head of the US  Weather Bureau Climatological Service Division, the state climatologist program was established on a national basis within the USWB.  In his first Climatological Services Memorandum No. 45, the Section Centers were discontinued and state climatologists were appointed.   By 1956, essentially each state, including Wisconsin, had a state climatologist and staff who were part of the USWB. In 1965, the USWB was placed under the  Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) which had been created.  In 1970, ESSA became the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the name of the USWB was changed to the National Weather Service (NWS). 

The federal funding of the national state climatologist program was terminated in April 1973 due to budget considerations and the state climatologists were assigned to other positions in NOAA.  The position was funded partially by the State of Wisconsin from 1974 to 1976 and fully after 1976. Val Mitchell was hired to be state climatologist, with joint appointments in  the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Meteorology  and the University of Wisconsin-Extension's Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS).  By 2000 the funding from the WGNHS  was terminated and the Wisconsin State Climatology Office became part of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison..

The state climatologists that have served since 1953 are listed below.

 Lothar "Al" Joos (1953-1955)

He also served as the Meteorologist in Charge (MIC) of the Madison National Weather Service (NWS) station, 1948-1955. He indicated by letter that he had never taken over Storm Data collection, since he had no increase in staffing to handle the increased work, and that it fell to the Minnesota SC to do. He moved to Illinois to become their State Climatologist (1956-1960), then to Washington, DC to work for Landsberg (1960-196)7, then to Kansas City as regional climatologist (1967-1973), supervising ten state climatologists, until the program was terminated.

Paul Waite (1956-1959)

Because of Lothar Joos' complaints to Landsberg, when Joos left he was replaced by both an MIC and an SC. Paul Waite took on the State Climatologist position. During his tenure he set up Climatology at North Hall, but moved the office to Science Hall in early 1959, just before he moved to Iowa to become State Climatologist there. Hans Rosendal was assigned as a student intern for the summer and overlapped both Waite and Burley. Waite moved to Iowa to become the Iowa State Climatologist.

Marvin W. Burley (1959-1965)

He helped Professor Art Peterson of the UW Soils Department establish the snow/frost depth reporting program using grave diggers for the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service in 1961.  Burley moved from Wisconsin to Asheville to work at the National Center.

Hans Rosendal (1965-1973)

He previously worked in Washington, DC at the Office of Climatology under Landsberg, and served as the editor of Mariners Weather Log for three years. After the NOAA State Climatologist position was terminated, he moved to Milwaukee as a lead forecaster, then moved to Phoenix a year later, and eventually transferred to Honolulu, Hawaii as a forecaster, hurricane program leader, and Scientific Service program leader. Hans is currently retired in Hawaii after 47 years of service with the National Weather Service.

Robert Schloemer (1973-1974)

He came from Landsberg's office to retire in Madison. He served unofficially and without pay to keep the office open. In December 1973 the State Climatology Office was attached to the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS), and was paid part-time with federal replacement dollars with no additional funds from the state government.

Val Mitchell (1974-1982)

He was appointed State Climatologist in July 1974, and was paid using temporary federal replacement funds through the 1975-76 fiscal year. In April 1976, UW-Extension allocated $30,000 for the SC program from their federal revenue-sharing program. Starting in FY 1976-77 the SC office was supported entirely from state funds, of which $7,000 was added to the WGNHS base budget by Extension and $11,000 was reallocated from existing programs. In spite of continuing requests for additional funding for the SC program from Extension, the program has continued to be funded from existing WGNHS program funds. During Mitchell's tenure, the official Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Climatic Data Center was signed on 31 August 1978. This MOU is still in effect. Dr. Mitchell retired due to disability from multiple sclerosis in 1982.

Douglas R. Clark (1982-1989)

He came to the SC office from the UW Department of Meteorology with a new PhD in agricultural meteorology, working under the direction of Champ Tanner and Heinz Lettau. In 1984 he began to organize a network of automated weather observing stations (Campbell-Scientific) across the state at several UW Experimental Farms. In 1989 he took one-year leave and moved to Denmark with his Danish wife; during that time he was offered a climatology position with the UW Department of Soil Science, but declined and resigned from the SC position. When he left, the ownership of the automated weather network was transferred to the Soil Science Department, where it continues under the direction of Bill Bland (beginning in 1991), the Extension climatologist.

Pamela Naber Knox (1989-1996)

She became the Acting SC when Clark went on leave to Denmark. During the one-year acting period the UW Meteorology Department looked into creating a faculty SC position with an assistant SC, but nothing materialized. In 1990 Knox (then Pamela S. Naber) was hired as SC, but due to the ongoing attempts to create a new position was administratively titled Geological Survey Specialist-Climatologist. The focus of the office switched from research back to outreach with the removal of the automated weather network. From 1990 to 1995 the number of public contacts increased from 1700 to over 3000 per year. With the closing of the Madison NWS office in April 1996 and the modernization of the NWS, the number of calls to the office increased even more.
Pam served as the President of the American Association of State Climatologists (AASC) between 1996 and 1997 and also hosted the 1994 AASC annual meeting in Madison.

Matt Menne (1996-1998)

After Pam Naber Knox took leave to accompany her husband to New York City (where he had a post doctoral position at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies), Matt Menne, a graduate student  was appointed acting SC.  He left to take a position at the National Climatic Data Center. 

John A. Young (2002-present)

As chairman of the UW Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, John Young became the Director of the Wisconsin State Climatology Office,

 

REFERENCES:

Conner, G., 2006: History of Weather Observations, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1837-1948. Station History Report to the Climate Database Modernization Program of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, Midwestern Regional Climate Center, 78 pp. ,[Available from Midwestern Regional Climate Center, 2204 S. Griffith Drive, Champaign, IL 61820.] or at http://mrcc.sws.uiuc.edu/FORTS/histories/WI_Milwaukee_Conner.pdf

Hopkins, E.J. and J.M. Moran, 2009:  Monitoring the climate of the Old Northwest:1820-1895.  Chapter 11 published in Historical climate variability and impacts in North America.  L-A. Dupigny-Giroux & C. Mock (eds)  Springer.

Midwestern Regional Climate Center. Climate Database Modernization Program.
See http://mrcc.isws.illinois.edu/research/cdmp/cdmp.html

Moran, J.M. and E.J. Hopkins, 2002: Wisconsin's Weather and Climate. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison. 321 pp.

Naber-Knox, P. 199?  History of the Wisconsin State Climatology Office.  Unpublished manuscript.

Ostrom, ME., 1988:  History of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey: Part 2. 
Available on line at http://wisconsingeologicalsurvey.org/meohis2.htm

US Weather Bureau, Climatological Data for Wisconsin.

Waite, P., United States Climatological Chronology
available on line at http://weather.nmsu.edu/USClimat.htm
 

To Contact Us: Wisconsin State Climatology Office
1225 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53706
Phone: 608–263–2374
Fax: 608–263–7679
Email: STCLIM@aos.wisc.edu