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Crater Lake marks a century of weather observation

CRATER LAKE — A century ago, scientists began monitoring weather conditions at Crater Lake National Park, a locale that receives an annual average of 512 inches of snow and is dubbed “one of the snowiest places in North America” on the park’s website.

Daily data collected included high and low temperatures, rain, snowfall and snow depth. A century later, that practice continues, and the results are valuable to National Weather Service meteorologists, helping them monitor climate trends and predict weather conditions.

The National Weather Service recognized Crater Lake, referred to by park officials as “the only longterm high elevation snow data collection site in Southern Oregon,” for its century of weather observations this past week at the park during a brief ceremony.

“We can look at some of our snow forecasts and see how that fits into their climatological record,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Sandler. “We can put storms, historical snowstorms, in better context. We have a longer period of record, so we can say, ‘That’s a one-in-20-year storm, one-in-10-year, one-in-50-year. We’re more accurate when we talk about that.”

Observations taken the first 30 years were gathered in different spots around the park, Crater Lake public information officer Marsha McCabe said. From October 1919 through June 1930, the main location was at Annie Springs near the park’s south entrance. From July 1930 to August 1949, the location moved up to the Rim Village. Since then, observations have been taken at the park’s headquarters.

“They did have a break in observations during World War II,” McCabe said.

The park has utilized Weather Service equipment since 1953, Sandler said.

Over the course of a century, the park took observations 97% of the time. Since relocating the observation site to park headquarters, that rate has been nearly perfect, 99.4%, McCabe said. Estimated number of observations: 34,500.

How weather watchers share their data with the National Weather Service has changed, too.

“If you go back a ways, all these cooperative weather observers would call us,” Sandler said. “Then we’d write down their information, their high, low and precipitation.”

Now there’s a program called Weather Coder where observers submit their data, making it instantly available to Weather Service meteorologists. “So the reporting process is much better,” Sandler said.

There have also been some recent upgrades to data collection equipment. Rain gauges that read hourly data debuted in the ‘40s or ‘50s, Weather Service hydrologist Spencer Higginson said. “The last several years we’ve installed digital units that log the data, and then we use thumb drives to download it.”

Changes are on the horizon for temperature observations, too, he said. Essentially, the temperature devices are going wireless.

“That should be anytime now,” Higginson said. “But the rollout will be slow.”

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Rooftops at Rim Village poke out of the snow at Crater Lake National Park. Photo courtesy Crater Lake National Park