It was an auspicious day at the Mohonk Preserve Visitor’s Center this Monday when Paul Huth, the Preserve’s director emeritus of research, was presented with the National Weather Service (NWS)’s John Campanius Holm Award honoring his “outstanding public service in the provision of daily observation in support of the climate and weather programs of the National Weather Service.”
The Holm Award was named in honor of John Campanius Holm, a Lutheran minister who was the first known person to have taken systematic weather observations in the American Colonies in the mid-17th century. This year, according to Ray O’Keefe, the meteorologist in charge for the NWS, there “were 11,000 names put forth for this award, and only 17 were given, two in this region.”
He explained that before one could be considered for this prestigious award — the highest honor given by the National Weather Service — the candidate has to have a minimum of 20 years of service taking weather observations. “Paul has taken weather readings here for the past 40 years,” said John Thompson, who is now the director of research for the Mohonk Preserve. “Our weather data collection center is in its 118th year, with 43,014 consecutive days of recording the weather, precipitation, lake temperature readings, which is one of the oldest in the country.”
What Huth and his staff and members of the Smiley family call “doing the weather” consists of a systematic approach that has remained continuous over 118 years, collected in snow squalls, rainstorms, hurricanes and days so hot that the climb to the station would leave them drenched in sweat.
What make Huth and the current staff, as well as his Smiley family predecessors, so valuable to organizations like the National Weather Service are the accuracy of their recordings, the detail, the consistency, which create more than a century’s worth of baseline data that are now being used to study climate change. “We are in the throes of climate change, and this data is invaluable. The people who dutifully and diligently collect and record it, like Paul, have not only helped us to study climate change, but also insurance companies and contractors trying to get an idea of what the weather trends are in a certain region,” said O’Keefe.
“Paul is an extraordinary resource for the Preserve and for the Shawangunk Mountain region,” said Mohonk Preserve executive director Glenn Hoagland. “We’re happy that he is still with us, because he brings such knowledge, enthusiasm and a sense of excitement and discovery to the mountain every day that it has inspired thousands of people, whether they be staff members, visitors, members, citizen scientists, interns… He has helped to educate current conservationists and a whole new generation of conservationists. He always says that he knows when he comes to the Preserve that he will learn something new every day. He reminds us all that nature holds many mysteries and has much to teach us.”
Hoagland used a quote by Marcel Proust that he says reminds him of Huth’s character: “‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’ That is so appropriate to Paul, because in the 40 years he’s worked in this landscape, he brings new eyes to it each and every day.”
Huth thanked O’Keefe and Tim Scrom from the NWS for “making the trip here.” He went on to say that, from the days and years he learned from the late Dan Smiley to the present, “Everyone on our staff, when we go to ‘do the weather,’ understands that it means more than collecting data, checking the rain gauge, the temperature. When major storms hit — and we’ve had several recently with Sandy, Lee and Irene — and we’re recording more than eight inches of rainfall, we know that this will impact people’s lives, our infrastructure. When we recorded 123 inches of snow in 1995/96, we understood that it’s not just weather; it’s about impact on people and homes and road conditions and safety. As these extremes continue — and I’m sure Albert K Smiley, when he first began recording the weather on January 1, 1896, was not thinking that he would be starting a baseline that would end up helping to understand global warming trends a century later — we know that it’s more than ‘doing the weather.’ Its impacts are much greater.”
On a humorous note, Huth asked rhetorically, “What’s the one thing we all talk about? The weather! It unites us. So get out there and enjoy this beautiful weather day!”