Sundbergs in Hayden honored for 41 years of volunteer weather observing
September 26, 2013
Hayden — Calling Beth and John Sundberg dependable is an understatement.
For the past 41 years, the Hayden couple has been responsible for calling in daily 6 p.m. weather observations to the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction.
It is a task that Beth Sundberg takes seriously, and her husband is known to help.
"When it's a raging blizzard, he's usually the one that's measuring the snow," she said.
Their dedication has not gone unnoticed. On Thursday, the couple was presented with the prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award during a ceremony at the Hayden Congregational Church. Out of the 11,000 cooperative weather observers in the United States, no more than five observers receive the honor each year. It is meant to honor excellent work by the volunteers and is named after the third president of the U.S. Recording the weather also was a hobby of Jefferson’s, who made an almost unbroken series of daily weather observations from 1776 to 1816 according to the National Weather Service.
In 2008, the Sundbergs received a less prestigious award from the National Weather Service called the John Campanius Holm Award.
Three representatives from the Grand Junction office were at the ceremony to present the Jefferson award to the volunteers. The office covers all of western Colorado and parts of eastern Utah. It uses 80 weather observers to help document the region’s climatology.
"To find replacements is just really hard, so we're happy we have the Sundbergs doing it," said John Kyle, who oversees the collection of the weather data.
Hayden Congregational Church Pastor Janet Babish wrote a letter recommending the Sundbergs for the award. On Thursday, she called them pillars of the church.
"Whatever it is they commit to, they commit to," Babish said. "They take it to heart. If they say they are going to do something, it is going to get done."
If the Sundbergs leave Hayden for vacation or another reason, they have been certain over the years to find someone to call in the observations that are measured in the backyard of their home on Hospital Hill. Every day, they call in the snow or rain amounts as well the minimum, maximum and current temperature.
"Keeping the weather is a lot of fun because it's interesting and unpredictable, like last night when it got down to 28″ degrees, Beth Sundberg said.
Sundberg said the National Weather Service called for a low of 37 degrees, and she thought it would be later in the week before Hayden saw its first freeze.
As an avid gardener, she pays special attention to the weather and was happy to see the late first frost in Hayden.
"The weather is pretty important," said Sundberg, who in 2011 retired after being the town's part-time municipal court clerk for 34 years.
The National Weather Service also thinks the role of the weather observers are important. According to the organization's website, the observations are the primary data for research into global climate change. Using volunteers also saves the government money.
"It is estimated that their time totals over a million hours a year," the National Weather Service website states about the volunteers.
The Sundbergs, who have been married for 55 years, took over the weather observation duties in April 1972 from a former Hayden resident.
Beth Sundberg recalled how there have been many memorable weather events in the past 41 years, such as June 14 during the early ’70s when it snowed 8 inches. During winter 1973-74, the Sundbergs measured upward of 40 inches of snow in a 24-hour period.
But Beth Sundberg is not in the business of predicting the weather, so there is no sense in asking her what kind of winter Northwest Colorado will see.
"I don't do that," she said.
In addition to a plaque, the Sundbergs received a congratulatory letter from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. The Sundbergs have no intentions of giving up their hobby.
"We'll try to do it another 41 years," Beth Sundberg said.