BRIDGEHAMPTON, N.Y. – It takes only a couple of minutes twice a day, but 101-year-old Richard Hendrickson is fiercely proud that he has done the same thing for his country and community almost every day since President Herbert Hoover was in the White House in 1930.
The retired chicken and dairy farmer, whose home sits in the heart of the ritzy Hamptons, has been recording daily readings of temperature and precipitation longer than any volunteer observer in the history of the U.S. National Weather Service.
The agency will honor Hendrickson today by naming its 80-year service award in his honor at a ceremony at its office in Upton, N.Y. Hendrickson, who is estimated to have tallied more than 150,000 weather observations, has provided invaluable data that helps meteorologists analyze impending storms and information that tracks long-term climate change and other trends.
“Volunteer observers are the bedrock of weather data collection,” said I. Ross Dickman, meteorologist in charge of the New York weather forecast office. “Richard has contributed thousands of weather measurements to build the climate record for Long Island, and after 84 years, holds the title of the nation’s longest-serving volunteer weather observer.”
Agriculture and weather are inextricably linked, Hendrickson said in an interview in the office where he compiles his data.
“I’ve been a farmer all my life,” he said. “You don’t cut hay today and let it dry in the field if you know it’s going to rain tomorrow. You try to be your own weatherman.”
Hendrickson has had a lifelong interest in nature, weather and history. In 1996, he wrote and published a book “Winds of the Fish’s Tail,” a nod to the region’s resemblance to the fins of a fish. In the book, he includes remembrances of the 1938 “Long Island Express” hurricane that destroyed much of what was then a rural island. For many years, he also wrote monthly weather summaries for local weekly newspapers.
The service’s Cooperative Observer Program has 8,700 volunteers across the country and has provided scientists and researchers with data for more than a century. Tim Morrin, a program leader, said the goal is to have an observer every 25 square miles nationwide.
Although Hendrickson has sometimes taken days off because of ill health or other commitments – his family has pinch-hit for him from time-to-time – Morrin said the daily report from Hendrickson is one of the highlights of his job. Moreover, the 80-plus years of continuous data from a single source is invaluable to researchers.
“I think his loyalty to the program keeps him going,” Morrin said. “He’s made a commitment. We just love hearing his voice. The man has incredible longevity.”