GMF Weather Station Moves to New Location

In a geological timeframe, it is only a historical blip, but the weather station started in 1932 by Edward “Ted” Childs in Great Mountain Forest (GMF) has provided valuable insights into climatological changes affecting the region for nearly a century.

Now, after 92 years in the same location, the weather station has been moved to a new site. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the station, officially designated as Norfolk 2SW by the National Weather Service, was moved about one-third of a mile from its original home on private land to a new site adjacent to the GMF office at 201 Windrow Road.

Little else changed. The new location has only slight variations in climatological conditions and the task of monitoring the station is still carried on by Russell Russ, who has had the task for two decades. 

“I’ve been doing it since 2003 when I took over from my father [who was also named Russell Russ]. Ted Childs used to do the readings, and my father worked with him and then took over from him and did it for 50 years. There were a few people who did it for a while after my father died, but it was not being done very well—the records weren’t being kept, so I took it on.”

“I came up with the idea of moving the station almost two years ago,” said Russ, who is a full-time property manager and forester for GMF. The 6,000-acre ecological laboratory created by Yale-trained forester Childs in the 20th century is now run as a conservation legacy organization under the supervision of trustees.

GMF has a strong educational mission, of which the weather station is one component. The national database generated by members of the Cooperative Weather Observer Program is the cornerstone of the nation’s weather history and serves as primary data for research into global climate change. Norfolk’s station is one of about 170 in Connecticut, and one of only 25 that send readings to the National Climatic Data Center to be archived on a national level.

As such, consistency of its readings is important. “The move had to go through multiple approval levels, but I come here every day anyway, so makes sense to have it here where I work,” Russ said. “We had an easement on the Childs’ property, but now it is under the Great Mountain Forest umbrella, and it will go on after I depart.”

He predicts there may be small changes in the readings but said the move will be noted in the National Weather Service’s records to account for any anomalies. “It’s really not that big a deal to them,” Russ said. “Yes, it moved, but it is well within their station relocation model. It’s not like there is a building right next to it now or pavement around it that would change the temperature. That’s why the Weather Service likes this station, because of its consistency.”

Russ is still working with the same equipment that Childs installed so long ago. The Weather Service did have a fenced location where it installed automated weather equipment after 9/11 because it wanted to monitor wind patterns in case a dirty bomb was detonated in New York City. 

“They put in fancy equipment that shot information to a satellite, then they ran out of money,” Russ said. “It quit transmitting six months ago, so they went back to volunteers to take readings—which is me reading both a digital and an old-style mercury thermometer. I measure the rain that falls into a bucket and the snow that falls on the ground and on a snow board. We’ve never missed a day with humans doing the monitoring.”

Doing the work requires dedication, however. Russ, who lives in Colebrook, drives nine miles to get to the station. “It’s not easy to come in every day at a certain time,” he admitted. “I have to pay attention because you have to track what happened during day—if it snowed, when did start, when did stop, when did it change to rain? Which way is the wind blowing? Is it sunny or cloudy? 

“I don’t go away that often, but when do, I automatically follow the weather for a few days,” he continued. “Then I will go through a day and not notice. But here, it’s a natural thing.”

People often ask him about the weather, and he replies, “I record the weather, I don’t predict it.” But he admits that the “last few years have been a little strange. We’re still getting the precipitation, but lately it has been rain.”

The busiest time of the year comes when he must recalculate all the readings so they can be compared to previous years. “It takes a lot of work, but I enjoy it—what was the warmest day? Year? Month? People always want to know how much snow we got.”

“It’s sort of a way of life,” Russ concluded. “It’s a commitment, which makes it tricky. When I am gone, someone else will have to do it.”

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