Many memories come from watching the weather
By Patricia Beech
Some years ago, Roger Rhonemus of West Union was a politician, a servant of the people, with an appointment book overflowing with obligations, duties and commitments. His time truly was not his own, yet, but each and every day he took the time to regard the world around himself and record his observations – and he does so to this day. He is one of 8,700 volunteers who from “farms, towns, seashores, and mountaintops” daily record weather observations for the National Weather Service (NWS).
“It’s funny how you end up doing what your parents did,” Rhonemus says. “My Mom would write the temperature on the calendar every day, and how many inches of rain fell. So, I just naturally kept track of how much rain we had, even though you couldn’t do anything about it.”
For over three decades he has provided weather data to the NWS, and in recognition of his years of service, on May 5 he was presented a 35-Year Length of Service Award for his daily recordings of precipitation and Brush Creek water levels.
Rhonemus began recording weather data in 1973 when he was 16 years old. “We lived on a farm on Brush Creek and it was just normal to pay attention to the creek,” he said. “When it got up over the road where we lived, we had to walk home so we always paid attention to it.”
He explains that a nearby neighbor began keeping the records following the great flood of 1937, “When he died, my sisters took over for a while, and when they stopped, I started doing it.”
According to the NWS, the data collected by people like Rhonemus is used in variety of ways, including to help measure long-term climate changes.
The network of data collectors was set up by an act of Congress in 1890, but weather recordings began long before that. The earliest known observations in the U.S. were recorded in 1644-45. Subsequently, many notable historical figures maintained their own weather records. According to the NWS, “George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin all maintained weather recordings. Jefferson kept an almost unbroken record of observations between 1776 and 1816, and Washington took his last observation just a few days before he died.”
Since leaving politics, Rhonemus says he spends more time in nature and farming, and worries less about appointments.
His work for the NWS has allowed him to closely observe nature around Brush Creek. “It’s fascinating to see all the wildlife. I’ve seen beaver, deer, turtles, and gar swimming across it. It’s an exceptionally healthy waterway and I hope it stays that way.”
Because his farm borders Brush Creek, Rhonemus pays close attention to the creek.
“When you farm along a creek, you learn to deal with things like flooding that you can’t do anything about,” he says, adding that it’s important to be prepared. “I watch the weather signs as a farmer. Growing up we learned all of the natural signs – if the sky is red at night you’ll have nice weather, or if it’s red at dawn, or the maple leaves are turned over, you know it’s going to rain.”
Not all of Rhonemus experiences with Brush Creek have been about measurements and gauges. In 1996 he was standing on the old iron bridge on St. Rt. 348 when he heard a loud roaring sound on the creek. “There was a wall of water eight feet high coming right at me,” he recalled. “The water was churning, throwing logs around. I stayed on the bridge till it got there, cause not many people will ever see a flash flood like that, it was fascinating.”
While the flood of ‘96 was his most fascinating experience, he calls the flood of 1997 the greatest disaster of his lifetime on Brush Creek.
“My gauge is 32. 04 feet above the bottom of the creek, and in the 1997 flood the water was about 35 feet high so my gauge was three feet under water,” he says, “The headwaters from that flood caused erosion and did a lot of damage.”
According to Rhonemus the first big flood he remembers was in 1964, driven by backwater from the Ohio River:
“It wasn’t as bad as ‘97, because the Ohio River was full and pushed back into low lying areas, but in ‘97 it was headwaters, and erosion is worse with headwaters. In ‘97 we had 12 inches of precipitation in one day, which is 25% of our total year’s precipitation in one day. While ‘64 didn’t do as much damage, in ‘97 we lost a lot of infrastructure we probably wouldn’t have lost with back water, it was a challenge putting everything back together.”
Observers like Rhonemus record their observations daily and electronically send those reports to the NWS by telephone or computer.
Their observations and the data they provide are invaluable in learning more about the floods, droughts, heat and cold waves that affect all of us. According to the NWS website, the volunteers’ collected observations are also used in agricultural planning and assessment, engineering, environmental-impact assessment, utilities planning, and litigation. Coop data plays a critical role in efforts to recognize and evaluate the extent of human impacts on climate from local to global scales.
Or, as Rhonemus says, “I make my living from the soil and the water and I want to take care of them as best I can.”