Taking daily weather observations. Checking
the rain gauge and measuring the precipitation. Recording the high, low, and current temperatures.
They’re common tasks for those involved with weather forecasting. But for a cooperative
observer located to our east in Bridgehampton, NY, the excitement of observing thunderstorms
and other meteorological phenomena has kept him taking measurements for over 80 years.
Taking the weather every day in nice days, it’s monotonous, but then you get the thunder
and lightning. BAM! Richard G. Hendrickson is a cooperative weather
observer, or CO-OP, for the National Weather Service, taking voluntary, but very important,
daily weather observations at his home in Bridgehampton. Sounds pretty standard… but
there’s a catch: At 101 years old, he’s been part of the observation record at this location
from the very beginning in 1930. We got it from Cornell. Set up the weather
station, put it together, put it up there and put the records in. So far as I know,
even when I went to Cornell, there has never been a day missed.
For some perspective, back in 1930, the New York, NY weather service office was located
in the Whitehall Building in Lower Manhattan. And the National Weather Service even had
a different name: the U.S. Weather Bureau. Back in Bridgehampton, the CO-OP site began
with rather humble beginnings. A family friend thought it looked good for weather observations!
You look across the fields here of potatoes and you saw the sunset. And different times
of day he would do that and he wrote several books and he was a very brilliant man. And
as a young kid going to eighth grade or first year of high school he thought… he was a
good friend of the family…”Ah this is a good place to set up a weather station!”
From there on out, the reasons for continuing to take weather observations were pretty clear.
Although at times, the task was repetitive, it was a crucial part of the local family
farm, as well as the agricultural business of Bridgehampton. It was a staple of everyday
life. It’s monotonous but in agriculture or livestock
and crops, it’s your bread and butter. You have to do it.
The persistence of the weather observations at his home has been nothing short of remarkable,
especially considering some of the more trying times, including the Great New England Hurricane
of 1938. Limbs on the trees were blowing, the leaves
were off, pretty soon the roof on the building houses were starting to raise up, and the
pylons that support them, the four by four timber, were leaving the ground by that much
and coming down. Well, we closed up. The professors from Cornell went down street and stayed where
they were staying. We went in the house and the other kids went on home. And it blew.
And the first thing you know, the chicken house was gone.
With an incredible forward speed of 47 miles per hour, the hurricane slammed into eastern
Long Island on September 21 as a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Powerful winds
well over 100 mph and destructive storm surge devastated communities across Long Island
and into New England. Out in the field where we had raised our young
stock from baby chicks up until 5 months of age, where they became…started to lay an
egg and we put the nice selected ones in the laying house… those buildings were all gone.
Two of the big laying houses up on the hill were gone. There were five other large laying
houses in back of the barn in a row… eight, seven, eight, and nine were gone. Those three
were gone. There was no orchard. No trees left on the orchard. It is a way that you
started life all over again. Sadly, the storm resulted in hundreds of fatalities,
thousands of destroyed homes and buildings, and tens of thousands left homeless. The rapid
speed and extreme nature of the storm caught many locals off guard.
Well, that day we had never heard, other than reading in a history book or way back in colonial
times, of a hurricane. That’s down south. You don’t have them up north here.
The storm surge and force of the battering waves created several new inlets along the
local barrier islands, including Shinnecock Inlet, which remains today. And in total,
the storm resulted in several billion dollars of damage, when adjusted for inflation.
You had to clean up everything. The cows were in being milk. What were you going to do with
the milk? The roads were plugged up. Trees down. Buildings bottom side up or buildings
smashed. It was… I would say it was at least three days that your mind was in a terrible
condition. This came to your mind, you gotta do this or what can you do for that? You had
to stop and think on just one thing. However, despite the catastrophic nature of
the storm, life and the weather observations continued on.
But we lived through it and you made each day the best you could under those conditions
of what you had, what you needed, and what you had to do.
While the farm has been sold away since, the house and an impressive array of antiques,
such as his collection of wartime cannons, have stood the test of time. Still, over the
years since those first observations back in 1930, the science of meteorology has changed
dramatically, including the development of new surface observation platforms. For example,
today a New England Pilot Project weather station sits just to the south on the property
of Richard’s son. Nonetheless, if you ask Richard Sr. how his observation methods have
changed over the years, he’ll tell you the same thing:
Not a bit. There may be some things that have changed from a new experimental station or
something. And if I’ve heard of them, it’s passed my mind but I… I never… no, everything’s
the same as I did in 1930. Still today, in addition to the data provided
by other cooperative observers, Richard’s data are recorded and entered at the local
weather service office and disseminated through various products. The consistent record has
made the Bridgehampton site an integral part of the area’s surface network. With such a
wealth of experiences to call upon, Richard has a truly unique perspective on the local
weather. But he’ll be the first to admit that there’s always more to understand.
You’re always learning from someone else. No one knows it all. You can always learn!
It’s a philosophy that has been and continues to be at the core of Richard’s incredible
efforts as a Cooperative Weather Observer for the National Weather Service.