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Sunday, February 8, 2009

How not to measure temperature, part 81 - roofing the past in Columbia

Gary Boden sends word today of finding the weather station at the Columbia, SC Weather Bureau Office, as shown below:

U.S. Weather Bureau Office, Columbia SC. Circa 1915 (NOAA photo library)

U.S. Weather Bureau Office, Columbia SC. Circa 1915 (courtesy of the NOAA photo library)

Note the Stevenson Screen on the roof. This is where daily high and low temperatures were measured. It seems that this was a fairly common practice back then. Here’s the USWB office in Lander, WY in 1906:

The National Weather Service in Lander, WY in 1906 (NOAA library)

The National Weather Service in Lander, WY in 1906 (NOAA library)

I’ve covered other rooftop stations in the USWB COOP network, notably the Sacramento, Eureka, and Baltimore stations. There’s also an oddball rooftop station in Oakland at the Museum. the Baltimore office rooftop location was so bad that the NWS eventually closed it because it was setting new and erroneous weather records. It is not hard to see why:

Baltimore Customs House USHCN
Baltimore USHCN station circa 1990’s photo courtesy NOAA, click for more images

NOAA even wrote a training manual on siting issues, using this station’s high temperature anomaly as en example of what to avoid

Reference: NOAA Professional Competency Unit 6 (PCU6) manual (PDF)

The photo from Columbia made me curious about how the temperature might be affected by the rooftop location,so I checked the un-homogenized station temperature plot from GISS to see if anything stood out.


The jump downward between 1956 to 1957 seems to me to be like a “step change” upon simple visual inspection.It may or may not be related to a station move or equipment change.

Unfortunately, NCDC’s MMS metadatabase is down today with a “server” error, as often happens on weekends so I can’t look at their records right now to determine if the station was moved about that time.

But the Columbia NWS office has a writeup of the station history:

The presence of a full-time weather observation site in Columbia began on June 5, 1887 when the Army Signal Corps established a third order station in Columbia in the Old Agricultural Hall near the northwest corner of Gervais and Main Streets. Weather observations remained the responsibility of the Army Signal Corps until October 1, 1891 when the U.S. Weather Bureau assumed the station responsibility.

The first of several moves occurred on June 8, 1895 when the office moved to the Federal Building at the southwest corner of Laurel and Main Streets. The office remained at this location until February 15, 1901.

On February 15, 1901 the office once again was relocated, this time to City Hall at the northwest corner of Gervais and Main Streets. The station was also upgraded from a third order station to a first order station.

On October 1, 1903 the Weather Office relocated once again, this time to the Loan and Exchange Bank Building on the southeast corner of Main and Washington Streets.

March 1, 1905 once again found the Weather Office in a new location, this time in the Weather Bureau Building at the southeast corner of Laurel and Assembly Streets. For over 30 years the Weather Office called this location home.

On March 11, 1934 airline personnel began taking observations at Owens Field Airport, 4 miles southeast of downtown.

By June 3, 1935 the office had once again been relocated. This time the office had been moved to the Sylvan Building on the northeast corner of Main and Hampton Streets.

At Owens Field, Weather Bureau airway observers took over weather observation responsibilities.

The move to the Sylvan Building was short, on August 26, 1936 the Weather Office once again had a new home, this time in the U.S. Courthouse at the southeast corner of Laurel and Assembly Streets. The Weather Office remained at this location through June 1, 1954.

Airline operations were increasing in the Columbia area, especially at Owens Field and Weather Bureau observers assumed greater responsibilities at that location.

On February 14, 1947 the Weather Office moved again, this time from Owens Field to the new Columbia Airport. The move was to an old Army prefab building which was located about one mile east of the present location on the left side of the service road near the intersection with the main airport road. It was just across the street from the lake.

On January 20, 1967 we moved to the present Weather Service Building located east of the main terminal. When the building was dedicated, Karl Johannessen (sp?), Director of NWS Eastern Region, said the COlumbia National Weather Service had been in that “temporary” building for 20 years.

While the office hasn’t moved since 1967, there have been significant changes in the office. One of the most visible changes has been the change in the agency’s name … from the Weather Bureau to the National Weather Service.

As a part of the reorganization of the National Weather Service, more and more of the manual work has been computerized, including routine weather observations. The Automated Surface Observation System (ASOS) was commissioned on December 1, 1995.

Also as a part of the reorganization, the Columbia an Augusta Georgia offices were consolidated on October 1, 1995. Routine weather observations in the Augusta area are provided by ASOS units at both Bush Field and Daniel Field.

I find it curious that the NWS writeup never mentions anything about the rooftop location.They also seem to mix the two station histories (COOP and airport) which as I understand it, are separate stations.

Here is the current USHCN station at the University of South Carolina:

Looks better than a rooftop. More photos here.

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