New Hope observer is one of the 'unsung heroes' of the weather world

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2014 - 3:41 PM

Steve Reckers of New Hope is one of the volunteer observers who make invaluable contributions to the National Weather Service, which recently honored him for his 45 years of duty.

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Steve Reckers, a “cooperative weather observer” for the National Weather Service, doesn’t bother with hat or gloves most days when in his back yard.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Rain or shine, subzero cold or triple-digit heat, Steve Reckers of New Hope braves the elements nightly to record his observations about the weather.

Reckers ventures outside with a flashlight to the “cotton region shelter” in his back yard. The boxlike structure houses various instruments for taking readings.

Unless it’s 20 below or pouring rain, he doesn’t bother with a coat or gloves. “I’m not out there for very long,” he said.

As a “cooperative weather observer” for the National Weather Service, Reckers has conducted this daily ritual for nearly half a century. The retired state planner sends his detailed observations to the agency, and they get archived with the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., and the State Climatology Office in St. Paul.

Recently, the Weather Service honored Reckers with the Dick Hagemeyer Award for his 45 years of service. The award is named for a former Weather Service official whose 51-year career was marked by notable achievements. Hagemeyer died in 2001.

‘Gold standard’

Michelle Margraff, who oversees the observer program for the National Weather Service Twin Cities, calls Reckers “the gold standard for weather observers.”

“He spends his time getting the absolute best measurements,” she said. “You can tell he has a love for watching the weather,” she said.

The information that Reckers and other observers contribute is invaluable, she said. It helps with everything from predicting flooding to determining how deep to bury pipelines to avoid frost. The observations also shed light on climate change.

As such, Reckers is among the “unsung heroes of the climate record,” Margraff said.

Pete Boulay, a climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, adds that Reckers’ data, particularly the precipitation records he compiled from 1971 to 2000, is often used as a baseline for the Twin Cities. “It helps when we do some calculations, comparing rainfall,” he said.

Boulay readily refers others to Reckers’ data, as well. “He’s very good. We’ve had a good confidence in him over the years,” he said.

Reckers is modest about the award and the milestone it represents. “I’m glad they can use the information and that they appreciate the efforts people put into it,” he said, adding, “I’d be doing this anyway.”

‘Something I was born with’

Using a couple of old-fashioned, liquid-in-glass thermometers, Reckers ascertains the high and low temperatures for the day. He makes a note of numerous other factors, including precipitation, barometric pressure, sky conditions and wind direction and speed.

While most cooperative weather observers now use electronic equipment that can be read indoors, Reckers prefers to stick with his liquid-in-glass thermometers and the like for the sake of continuity, he said.

In the shelter, Reckers has some instruments set up “just for fun,” including a hydrometer and a psychrometer, which measure humidity and dew point. He also has wireless devices for intermediate readings throughout the day, he said.

As a child, Reckers was intrigued by what was going on outside. “It’s something I was born with. It’s inside,” he said.

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