101-Year-Old Farmer Honored for 84 Years of Weather Observations

Richard Hendrickson of Long Island has been collecting valuable citizen science since long before the term was invented.

Richard G. Hendrickson has seen his share of weather. That's because the 101-year-old has been logging weather data on his farm in Long Island, New York, since the Hoover administration.

Last month, Hendrickson was honored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for his 84 years of service in collecting and reporting weather data. He received an award named in his honor at a special ceremony in Long Island on July 27.

Hendrickson is the nation's longest-serving volunteer weather observer, according to I. Ross Dickman, a meteorologist who heads New York's weather forecast office.

"Volunteer observers are the bedrock of weather data collection," Dickman said in a statement.

Hendrickson began reporting weather data when he was 18 years old, to the agency that was then called the U.S. Weather Bureau. In 1996 he wrote a book about his experiences watching the weather in Long Island.

National Geographic spoke with Hendrickson about his long service in citizen science.

How did you get started monitoring the weather?

That's going back to the 1920s. I heard about it through a friend of mine who had taken the weather for a while for the weather service.

Then a man from the weather service came up one evening. He looked over our farm, over the hills. He saw that it was absolutely astounding. Some people have painted it.

What was your farm like?

My dad had a herd of dairy cows; we sold milk in the village. He had a flock of hens that were egg producing. We raised clover, alfalfa, corn.

I was born here in the farmhouse. I had an older brother, he became a lawyer, and a sister, who became a nurse. There weren't as many people around then.

What kept you going to make observations over such a long period, twice a day?

It's like fishing; you want to keep going all the time. I like being outside in the open. It is delightful when the weather is delightful. It's more challenging when it is wet and winds are blowing at 40 miles per hour.

And when you are in agriculture, you work with the weather. We have to keep track of it, and we have to make the most of it because that's what we're going to live on. Nature and the dollar bill are very closely related.

As a young kid I was a great kite flier. I read about Ben Franklin, made my own kites, and put them up in the sky. Every once in a while I'd write a note on a piece of paper, put it on a kite string, and the wind would blow it up to the kite. That's what kids did in the country in those days.

Benjamin Franklin also collected regular weather observations, as did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. You've called your work part of your patriotic duty. Why?

You have to do something for your country. The weather is a big thing every day, and it's what I did.

As a farmer I was out with the livestock or in the fields, where I had to work with weather. On my mother's side they were fishermen, and they had to work with the weather.

You made more than 150,000 weather observations over the decades. Are there any that stand out in your mind as particularly memorable?

The 1938 hurricane. That was part of history. It blew all the corn flat and caused a lot of damage. The weather is the boss, never forget it.

How have the instruments you've used changed over the years?

In my lifetime I used the thermometer, the rain gauge, and the weather vane. I recorded the depth of the rain and the velocity and direction of the wind. And I looked at the sky: Was it clear or cloudy?

How has the accuracy of weather forecasting changed over the years?

It's gotten better. We try to figure it out, to know how strong the wind will be and how much water there is going to be.

In agriculture you always try to stay a step ahead of the weather. Years ago, before electricity, you had to fill the icehouse when the freshwater pond froze, to save it for summertime. With hay we watched the weather, and when there was a nice dry period in the summer, we'd cut it. You hoped you got it done before a shower, because that would kill a lot of its sweetness and nutrition.

Have you seen changes in the weather over the years?

The weather is changing. We've had a few summers that were hotter than years ago. I think the rainfall and snow is a little heavier here than years ago. The weather changes; it's part of the history of the world, the nature of the world.

Do you have any advice for the next generation of weather monitors?

Advice is free. Study all phases of weather when you grow up. Weather is always changing.

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