Jim Norton, Gardener and National Weather Service Observer

If you ask Jim Norton, “How’s the weather?” you may get more information than you expect.

Jim has been gathering statistics on the weather for the Albany Weather Forecast Office for at least 25 years as part of a nationwide program that depends on the observations of its volunteers.

The gardener of plot #10 at the Saratoga Springs Community Garden at Wesley, Jim has kept his eye on the sky since he was a youth. And every morning at 7 a.m. he carefully collects and records information on precipitation, wind direction,  sun and cloud cover, and the maximum, minimum and present temperature.  The rain gauge records the precipitation to within a hundredth of an inch. His reports are sent daily to the Albany weather office.

The data he, and about 100-150 other regional observers, collect provide scientists and researchers with continuous climatic observations that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Ray O’Keefe, Meteorologist in Charge, said these observers are “very important”  to the Albany Weather Forecast Office.

He explained that the observers fill in gaps and enrich what the the weather service’s satellite technology is reporting. For example, he noted the technology can warn that hail is likely, but the observers are the ones who report on the hail’s size, where and whether it is hitting the ground. “They provide us with the ground truth,” he said.

As a gardener, Jim is in good company with other record keepers. Thomas Jefferson kept nearly perfect weather records between 1776 and 1816. George Washington recorded weather observations, too. “I enjoy looking at the sky, watching. This is being part of nature,” he said.

Jim added that as a youth he had hoped to become an astronaut but by the time he applied he discovered he was considered too old. Instead he worked for 45 years for GE in a research lab taking pictures of integrated circuits. “They were just being developed then, now they are in everything,” he said.

In his garden plot at the community garden, Jim is growing corn, two kinds of lettuce, tomatoes, chives and more. He obviously is enjoying himself, “Oh my gosh, this is fantastic. It’s fun to be a part of this garden. I love it,” he said.

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