The Cooperative Program Section is responsible for the management of an extensive network of volunteer weather observers dispersed across the Southern Region. These volunteers document weather statistics using equipment supplies by the National Weather Service (NWS). Virtually all of the volunteers record daily precipitation and many also record maximum/minimum temperatures, river stages, soil temperatures, evaporation and other vital information.
This group of volunteers is the backbone of the climatic database that has been developed and archived by the National Climate Data Center (NCDC). The information provided by this network is used extensively by groups interested in agriculture, tourism, construction, and resource management to name just a few.
The staff at the regional headquarters administer the station documentation files, budget the expense of the program and provide support to the NWS representatives that visit the volunteer stations. These representatives, normally from a local office of the NWS, make periodic visits to be certain that all equipment is operating properly, that all observer training has been provided, and that needed supplies are adequately stocked at the station.
The first extensive network of observing station was established in the 1890's as a result of an act of congress in 1890 that established the Weather Bureau (now the NWS). Long before the establishment of these organized networks however, weather data was being collected and shared by volunteers.
The earliest known records (in the United States) were collected by John Companius Holm in the 1640's. Other notable volunteer observers from history include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. As early as 1800, volunteer observer networks had formed together across much of the colonial United States. By 1863 the Smithsonian Institute had taken over the direction of the growing program and networks. The new Weather Bureau assumed responsibility for this program on July 1, 1891.