Waseca weather station joins 100-year data club

Recognition for 100 years of service
The National Weather Service recognized the Waseca weather station for 100 years of service on Wednesday. Pictured here are: State Climatologist Greg Spoden, left, retired observer Vern Ferch and University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley.
Elizabeth Dunbar / MPR News

Vern Ferch remembers trudging through deep snow on frigid days to spin the old thermometer at the Waseca weather station.

"Your fingers would be about frozen off when you had to spin that," said Ferch, who was the station's main weather observer from 1967 until he retired in 2001.

Ferch and the others who worked together to take weather readings and send them to the National Weather Service daily were honored Wednesday for 100 years of service.

"The data becomes even more valuable as time goes on and it's used in so many ways we never would have anticipated," said Dan Luna, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen. "I wish we had tens of thousands of these in the United States, but we don't."

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Waseca's station, located at the University of Minnesota's Southern Research and Outreach Station, is among a small but growing number of stations in Minnesota that have contributed more than 100 years of data.

And the data show Minnesota's climate is changing.

"I think the most obvious thing we've seen changing is the 30-year normal, especially for precipitation," said Jeff Vestch, who helps oversee the weather station today.

Jeff Vetsch oversees the weather station in Waseca
Jeff Vetsch, who oversees the weather station at the University of Minnesota's Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, Minn., demonstrates how daily precipitation data is recorded. The weather station was honored Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, for contributing 100 years of data to the National Weather Service.
Elizabeth Dunbar / MPR News

In the 1950s, the 30-year normal for precipitation was about 27 inches, he said. Today it's nearly 35 inches.

The weather station, surrounded by corn and soybean research plots, has instruments that measure everything from rain to evaporation to wind speed. Most of it is automated, but someone still has to do a daily check of the rain gauge.

Ferch said extreme weather is occurring even more frequently now than when he was doing the daily checks.

"Everybody's been getting tornados and floods and — knock on wood, we've been pretty lucky around here. We've had a lot of moisture," he said.

As it was in many places around the state, June was a record-breaker in Waseca — it was the wettest month ever in 100 years of data-collecting.

Those who have carried out the daily weather checks in Waseca say they looked back at early records and did find a single 28-day stretch one November where data is missing. They don't know what happened, but joked that maybe the weather observer at the time left town to go deer hunting.