Watching the weather

Fulton’s Wilma Joyce Senter has been watching the weather for more than 45 years … really, really watching the weather.
Senter was recently presented with the National Weather Service’s prestigious Richard Hagemeyer Award during a ceremony at her home in Fulton. The award recognizes her long record of excellence in reporting the weather for the Fulton area.
Since 1965, Senter has been a part of a select group of individuals who keep detailed weather records for the National Weather Service. Every day for more than four decades, Senter has measured and recorded the temperature and precipitation at her weather site, officially known as “Fulton 3 W.”
At one time Mrs. Senter also measured and recorded the river stages on the nearby Tombigbee river using a “Wire Weight Gauge.” This was no easy task as it required her to walk out on a narrow bridge and manually “reel down” a heavy weight to the river’s surface to obtain the daily river reading.
Senter is a member of this little known, but vital group of citizens that comprise the nation’s Cooperative Network. This network was established in 1891, when the Weather Bureau was charged with taking such meteorological observations as may be necessary to establish and record the climatic conditions of the United States. To comply with these directives, the old Weather Bureau relied heavily, as the National Weather Service does today, on voluntary cooperative observers.
Working with other cooperative observers from across the country, Senter has helped maintain a permanent record of the weather dating back to 1894. This record has become part of the national infrastructure; a record that guides decisions made by farmers, architects, engineers, civic planners, and many others.
According to Zwemer Ingram of the National Weather Service, the Hagemeyer Award is named for Richard “Dick” Hagemeyer, a legendary NOAA employee who rose from the ranks as chartist in the old Weather Bureau to the Regional Director of the National Weather Service’s Western Region. The Award is presented to observers who have volunteered their service for 45 years. Annually, fewer than 100 of these awards are presented across the nation.
Ingram, who presented Senter with her award, said the Fultonian is part of a very select group that includes many famous Americans who have kept detailed daily weather records, including Ben Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It was Jefferson, in fact, who first envisioned a nationwide network of weather observers as early as 1797.
Today’s cooperative observers record and transmit their weather observations in much the same spirit as our early pioneers.
Staff writer Adam Armour contributed to this story. He can be reached at 862-3141, by e-mailing adam.armour@journalinc.com.

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