The NWS Cooperative Observers Program:
An Integral Component of Weather Forecasting and Climate Monitoring

Approximately 11,000 volunteer weather observers participate in the collection of weather data in the United States each day in this large program managed by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS). Around 200 of these volunteers are located in New Mexico.

The Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) was formally created in 1890 under the Organic Act. The primary functions of the COOP include defining the weather and climate of the nation, as well as helping to support the NWS mission of protecting lives and property. In many states, and especially in New Mexico with complex terrain and remote regions, meteorologists depend on the data to produce accurate and detailed forecasts. It is difficult to imagine what the state of weather and climate programs across the United States would be without these valuable observations.

The contributions and impacts of the COOP network are far too numerous to list all of them here, however, a few examples illustrating the value of the program are described below.

 The Impact of COOP Observations on NWS Albuquerque Operations

 In the figure below, the contribution of our COOP observations is illustrated in two maps that both depict the percent of normal precipitation for the July-August 2004 period. On the left, an analysis was made using only the data from FAA hourly observations (airport sites). On the right, statistics generated from COOP data were included in the analysis. Note that the inclusion of COOP data results in a more detailed depiction of percent of normal precipitation, allowing us to better track features such as drought and spring runoff.

The Impact of COOP Observations on Climate Monitoring

Long term records of COOP observations are the backbone of climate monitoring, not only in New Mexico, but across the United States. Many of our COOP sites have periods of record that range from 50 to 100 years, or even longer. These records are used to compute means and trends, and to examine monthly, seasonal and annual variations in our climate. The National Weather Service maintains a web site with examples of products that rely on data from the COOP program.

Over the years, droughts have had tremendous negative impacts on the economy of the U.S. and the quality of life for its residents. At any give time, a significant percentage of the U.S. can be affected by drought. COOP observations are used to compute a number of drought indices, including the Palmer Drought Index illustrated below. By carefully monitoring drought conditions, we are better able to prepare and properly respond to droughts.

COOP observations are sent to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, NC. These observations, as well as other climate data (historical data sets, normals, extremes, etc.) are available from NCDC. The NCDC data are considered official data, meaning that observations have been quality controlled, published and certifiable.

COOP observations from sites with a long period of record, a low percentage of missing data, and few station moves are included in the U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN, Karl et al. 1990). This is a high-quality moderate sized data set of monthly averaged maximum, minimum, and mean temperature and total monthly precipitation developed to assist in the detection of regional climate change. The USHCN is comprised of 1221 high-quality stations from the U.S. Cooperative Observing Network within the 48 contiguous United States.

The USHCN was developed and is maintained at the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and the Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Center (CDIAC) of Oak Ridge National Laboratory through a cooperative agreement between the NCDC and the U.S. Department of Energy. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.