National Weather Service station run by Long Prairie couple from their own backyard

Steve and Nancy Potter demonstrate how they measure snow. Snow is then melted and the precipitation is recorded and sent to the regional National Weather Service in Chanhassen.

By SARAH LIDEEN, Staff Writer

Steve and Nancy Potter of Long Prairie have always had an interest in weather. Now, the couple has a weather station in their own backyard.

Four and a half years ago, Nancy saw that the National Weather Service (NWS) was looking for cooperative observers in the Long Prairie area. After contacting the station and giving them her information, the couple began the process.

Shortly after, a crew from  the regional National Weather Service in Chanhassen made their way to Long Prairie and began evaluating the Potters’ property. The crew made several trips back to install various sets of equipment and, soon enough, they were up and running.

“It really is that easy,” said Nancy.

The Potters wake up at 6 a.m. every morning to record the temperature and report the highs and lows for the previous day.

Annual materials are sent out to all cooperative observers to remind them how to measure to ensure the accuracy of the information being received. Equipment is also checked multiple times per year to make sure everything is working appropriately.

“They’re pretty serious about the information they get from these stations,” said Nancy.

During the winter months, multiple tools, called white boards, are laid around the Potters’ property. When it snows, they use a measuring stick to determine how much snow fell, using the white boards to gather a sample and use as a consistent starting point. Snow is then taken inside where it is melted down and poured into a funnel that gives the amount of precipitation.

“If it doesn’t start precipitating soon, it’s going to be a dry spring,” said Steve, who also said that this time last year there was four inches of water in the snow, compared to the one-tenth of an inch this year.

During the warmer months, water is gathered in the same funnel, and the number of inches is reported back to the National Weather Service.

The Potters also have something on their property that not many other cooperative observers do.

A frost tube reaches six feet underground and measures how deep the frost in the ground actually goes.

“Not a lot of people have them,” said Nancy.

The frost tube can also be used for flood predictions by allowing the NWS to determine how much water is in the ground.

“They can see what happens on the radar, but not on the ground,” said Nancy. “It’s very fun to be the person to be able to provide this information.”

Although many people show interest in the weather, staying consistent and waking up early are part of the job, and if it isn’t something you really have a passion for, it might prove to be more difficult than one would think, said Nancy.

Small groups from schools have toured the Potters’ land and learned about each of the tools they use on a daily basis.
Nancy hopes that the interest will spread and that home-schooled children will become more involved.

Every day, the Potters send their findings to an area newspaper and radio station. Every month they share their reports with an all Spanish newspaper.

“It’s really fun to be a part of the National Weather Service in this volunteer way,” said Nancy.

Aside from current weather, Steve has weather reports that date as far back as the 1850s, and is currently working on graphing and putting the data together.

“I like to look back and compare past years to this current time,” said Steve.

So far, the Potters are the only cooperative observers in Todd County, although the NWS is looking for more. It has another program that anyone can become a part of by simply measuring precipitation.

“It would be great for them, and then other people in Long Prairie can see it all since different parts of the town can get different amounts,” said Nancy.

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