September 11, 2017 9:52:53 AM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
For 40 years, Esta Hayden has taken rainfall records at her home just west of Crawford. Recently, the National Weather Service honored her for it.
Hayden, who lives with her husband, Bill started taking rainfall measurements in 1977. They do the work together, and started after Belva Triplett, a neighbor who took the measurements before them, died.
"They asked us if we would do it, and that's when we started," Esta said. "We've been doing it ever since."
On Aug. 26, Esta's 82nd birthday, the National Weather Service presented her with an award to recognize her 40 years of service as a weather observer.
In the years since she started, Esta said, checking the rainfall gauge near the fence behind the Haydens' house has become a part of the daily routine. Bill, 85, said they check the gauge at 7 a.m. every morning.
The Haydens are part of the Cooperative Weather Observer Program. Latrice Maxie, observing program leader for the National Weather Service in Jackson, said observers such as the Haydens check for rainfall and report it to the NWS.
Despite the time that's passed since Esta and her husband began taking rainfall managements, their reporting methods haven't changed. They keep a booklet of sheets with columns for various weather data and rows for each day of the month. They fill them out and mail them in to the National Weather Service office in Jackson. That's the way it's always been, they said, save a brief period when they reported rainfall totals by telephone.
"It has a lot of things on there, but the only thing we're asked to do is the rain," Esta said. "Every day that it rains, we record it. I send them in two copies every month."
The rain gauge is a deep tube with a shallower cup in the top of it. The cup can hold two inches of rain, Bill said. If more rain falls, it overflows into the tube. When that happens, they empty the cup into the tube and take a measurement of the water.
"We've had 15 inches," Bill said. "That was quite a few years ago."
The Haydens occasionally have to deal with snow or freezing temperatures, Bill noted. In those instances, they bring the gauge inside.
"If it freezes, then we have to bring it in and put it by the fire to thaw it out so we can measure it," Bill said. "It takes a lot of snow to make an inch of water."
On days when Esta and Bill can't measure rainfall, their son and daughter, Leslie and Gale, respectively, can help out. Still, Esta said she plans to continue on as a weather observer as long as she can.
"I don't see any reason not to, as long as we're able to get out there to the gauge," she said.
Weather observer program
Maxie said the Haydens are part of a group of about 90 observers across the NWS Jackson coverage area.
"The Jackson forecast office, we handle two counties in southeast Arkansas, nine parishes in northeast Louisiana and 56 or 57 counties in the central part of Mississippi," she said. "We don't have an observer in every county, and we have a couple of counties that have two or three people."
Maxie said NWS tries to keep about 15 to 20 miles of separation between observers to provide broad coverage of the forecast area. If there's an area with a void, she said, the NWS will try to recruit a new weather observer.
The NWS provides equipment to its volunteer observers.
She said different observers are asked to measure different things. Some, such as the Haydens, just measure rainfall, while others measure temperature and rainfall.
A few observation stations are considered agricultural sites, she said, and measure temperature, rainfall, evaporation and soil temperature. Mississippi State University is one such site, she said.
Data weather observers collect can be used for climate records and forecasts. Maxie said insurance companies sometimes contact the NWS for weather data help with claim reports.
Maxie said data the Haydens collect helps with forecasts for the Tennessee-Tombigbee and Noxubee rivers. It is also used for long-term climate records, so having people do the work long-term is important due to the consistency it provides.
People like the Haydens, who have volunteered decades, are rare, Maxie said. But she said they're the heart of the program.
"It's a lot to ask someone to take an observation for you every day," Maxie said. "It's not a lot of work, but it takes some effort to, every day between 7 and 9 a.m., go out in the rain if it's raining, or the cold if it's cold, to take the observation. I appreciate the time and effort people like Mrs. Hayden put in."