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Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services

How to Become a Cooperative Observer

NWS Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) staff at 121 locations nationwide recruit Cooperative Observers. Station locations are not selected by NWS Regional or National Headquarters.

The distribution of Cooperative Weather Stations is a function of need. Needs are defined by data users and considered within the context of constraints of limited federal resources.

The basic distribution of Cooperative stations in the network are governed by an 1953 Iowa State University study, which determined that a spacing of about one station every 25 miles (one per 625 square miles) was sufficient to adequately define the climate of the United States in areas of homogeneous terrain. Greater densities are allowed in areas with large differences in elevation, urban heat islands, steep land-sea-lake interfaces, etc.

Because the network is 110 years old (established in 1890), many areas already have the necessary stations operating; however, about 200 observers resign each year, about 4 per state. Additionally, changing requirements can expand the need for observers.

Becoming an NWS Cooperative observer volunteer requires the following:

  1. Dedication to public service
  2. Attention to detail
  3. Ability to learn and perform daily duties
  4. Willingness to allow NWS to place measuring instruments on your property
  5. Willingness to allow at least one visit per year from a NWS representative.

Additionally, the following capabilities are useful but are not mandatory:

  1. Ownership of a personal computer with modem and familiarity with its basic uses
  2. Established internet access.

If you are selected to become an official NWS Cooperative station, NWS will provide you with the training and supervision you will need to perform your duties. Depending on your station's instrumentation, your site will be visited once or twice every 12 months, more if unscheduled maintenance or training updates are required.

Generally, volunteer observers receive no pay. Sometimes, because of special circumstances, exceptions are made locally. Questions regarding monthly stipends can be answered by your local NWS representative.

If you are interested in becoming an NWS Cooperative observer, contact the NWS representative in the WFO supervising your location.