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October 9, 2012

EKU weather observer earns national recognition

EKU

RICHMOND —

MANCHESTER — America’s dedicated postal carriers have nothing on Robert Watts.

Imagine waking before sunrise day after day and trudging through all kinds of adverse conditions to record temperature and precipitation at a nearby weather station.

Now imagine doing that every day of the week for 38 consecutive years — as an unpaid volunteer.

You won’t find too many people with the work ethic of Robert Watts. That’s why Watts was among only 14 nationwide this year to receive the John Campanius Holm Award, which recognizes outstanding and unusual achievements among the National Weather Service’s cooperative weather observers.

Officials from the NWS office in nearby Jackson were on hand at Eastern Kentucky University’s Manchester Regional Campus on Oct. 4 to present the award to Watts, who records the weather at EKU’s Lilley Cornett Woods Appalachian Ecological Research Station in a remote area of Letcher County. Watts also serves as onsite manager at Lilley Cornett.

Named for the first person recognized to have made systematic weather observations in the American colonies (1644-45), the award honors those NWS cooperative observers who have:

• Given at least 20 years of service

• Consistently provided accurate and complete observations

• Taken and reported observations under hazardous or extreme weather conditions  over an extended period of time

• Shown unusual effort to continuously provide observations despite illness, emergency absences, or equipment failure (In 38 years, Watts did miss three days when his spouse passed away.)

• Consistent and/or unusual efforts to ensure early receipt of data at collection centers

• Independently prepared climatological data or summaries based on quality, consistency and length of time issued

• Made consistent and/or unusual efforts to disseminate weather information and take care of instruments

• Demonstrated outstanding enthusiasm for imparting observational knowledge

• Earned the respect of the communities they serve.

“I cannot imagine anyone who is more deserving,” said Dr. Melinda Wilder, director of EKU’s Division of Natural Areas, in nominating Watts for the honor. “For the past 38 years, Mr. Watts has never taken an overnight vacation that would prevent him from taking the weather data at 7 a.m. every morning. This is an obvious indication of his commitment to his job responsibilities and the National Weather Service. This type of dedication is hard to find in this day and age.”

In the winter, the job often demands he melt snow and chip away at ice to obtain accurate precipitation readings.

Shawn Harley, the meteorologist in the charge at the NWS office in Jackson, said Watts’ service “has been unsurpassed. His observations are often the first we receive each day, and his record keeping is impeccable.”

Noting Watts often volunteers to help his community in the wake of disasters and emergencies, Harley added, “The service he provides to the National Weather Service is only one example of a life dedicated to serving others.”

EKU President Doug Whitlock also was on hand to salute Watts.

Watts’ reputation for reliability “says a lot about him, about the EKU spirit and what we refer to as the Essential Eastern, and about our dedication to regional stewardship.”     

This is not the first national honor for Watts. In 2008, he was recognized by the National Atmospheric Deposition Program for his 20 years of service to National Trends Network.

“One of the primary goals of Lilley Cornett Woods is to serve as a site for ecological research,” Wilder said. “The results of this research are instrumental in helping this region take productive actions in dealing with ecological problems. The continuous, high-quality atmospheric data collected by Mr. Watts is one of the factors that attract ecologists, biologists and other scientists throughout the region to participate in research at this site.”

Watts’ other duties at Lilley Cornett Woods range from taking chainsaws to cut trees and monitoring boundaries to leading tours and assisting researchers.

 “Mr. Woods is truly Lilley Cornett Woods’ most valuable asset due to his knowledge, work ethic and ability to work with all types of people,” Wilder said.

Watts is not the first from Lilley Cornett Woods to receive the Campanius award. In 1999, Mike Brotzge earned the honor.

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