Redwood Falls man volunteers daily for NOAA, has online following featuring his weather reports
By Scott Thoma
Every morning like clockwork for the last nine years, Jon Markuson rolls out of bed, checks the temperature and precipitation and sends the data via his laptop to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
Markuson is the official weather recorder over a 20-mile radius of Redwood Falls, where he has lived for the past 16 years.
Markuson has always been interested in weather.
“I saw online that the guy who was recording the weather for this region was retiring, and they were looking for a co-op weather observer to take his place,” Markuson said. “I applied, and they told me right away the job was mine.”
The position is strictly on a volunteer basis, but that’s just fine with Markuson.
“I like giving something back to the community,” he said.
Markuson is well known in the Redwood Falls area as the “weather guy.” In fact, he has built quite a following with his weather reporting. When he started a weather page on Facebook, he figured he would only have a few followers.
He brought up the Facebook page on his smartphone revealing 3,518 subscribers, mainly in the southwest part of the state.
“It does surprise me a little bit,” he said with a smile. “But people like stats and seeing information that they know is real, rather than all the drama that is online. And people really like to talk about the weather.”
Markuson has a stat of his own that he is proud of. The 45-year-old Chaska native still holds the Minnesota state high school record in the high jump that he set at 7-feet, 1-inch in 1993. Generally, track records don’t stand too long because of the progress of athletes in modern times. But this is one high school record that may stand for many years.
Now married (his wife is Nicole) with five children, Markuson works for the State of Minnesota at a community-based service.
He also is a storm chaser although not as rabid as some of them are.
“I’m also a weather spotter for this area,” he said. “But if I want to track down a tornado on my own for the excitement, I’ll do that, too. I just have to stay away from the hail.”
He readily enjoys tracking the weather for NOAA. Although not as complicated as you might think, there is still a lot of data to take care of on a daily basis.
The eight-inch steel rain gauge situated in his back yard has a smaller plastic tube inside. The rain collected inside the large tube is then poured into the tube and then measured with a measuring stick that is accurate to the hundredth of an inch.
That same steel tube is also used to record the amount of precipitation in snowfall. The metal tube is taken into his home and the snow melted by room temperature. Once melted, the water is poured into the same tube he used to record rainfall and measured.
“You have to let the snow melt naturally,” Markuson said. “It you use a hair blower to melt the snow, it will evaporate some of it and then you don’t get an accurate reading.”
Markuson also measures the amount of actual snow by using a horizontal-shaped white board that lies on the ground in his back yard, a few feet away from the steel rain gauge.
“Snow doesn’t melt as fast on a white board as it does a darker one,” explained Markuson. “I measure the snow depth on the board once a day and record the amount and then clean the board off so I can measure it again later. I’ve measured it up to 40 inches one time where a drift had formed. That’s why I have to move the board around to different locations in the yard a few times, too.”
Area snowplow drivers will also use Markuson’s reading to check if/when they need to go out to clear roads.
“It’s dark when I measure the snow in the morning, so I take a flashlight along with me,” Markuson noted. “If the snow is deep, I’ll snow blow a path out to the white board.”
The temperature is recorded at 7 a.m. daily, which is done automatically with a “Beehive” thermometer supplied by NOAA. The “Beehive” is affixed to a pole in Markuson’s back yard and the temperatures can be recorded from inside his home.
“Someone from NOAA placed the devices in the yard where they felt would best record,” Markuson said. “The person recording for NOAA also has to live on the outside of town to get more accurate readings.”
A few yards away from NOAA’s devices is a “Bloom Sky” that Markuson purchased himself and affixed to an archway in his back yard. The device, not required by NOAA, takes photos of his back yard every five minutes and he can check it from his smartphone to see what the weather is doing when he is not home or not looking out the window. The device also reveals the temperature, humidity and barometric pressure.
With the temperature recording automatically and NOAA approving rainfall accumulation readings on a multiple-day basis, Markuson isn’t confined to his home every day.
“If it’s raining quite a bit, I’ll have someone come over and take the readings for me if I gone,” Markuson said.
He also records fog, hail and the size, ice pellets, ice glaze, thunderstorms and damaging winds.
Markuson values the importance of his weather readings.
“These records can tell us how much flooding there will be in the spring,” he explained. “It’s also used for crops. This isn’t a state program, it’s a federal program so it’s very important that these readings are accurate.”