Richard G. Hendrickson, A Weatherman for the Ages, Lives On

The new weather station data collection module atop the third floor deck of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt field station.
The new weather station data collection module atop the third floor deck of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt field station.

By Douglas Feiden

For 85 years, the Richard G. Hendrickson name was synonymous with recording and forecasting the weather on the East End of Long Island. That era appeared to be nearing an end after his death on January 9 at the age of 103 and the decommissioning of the weather station he’d operated so lovingly from his family’s Bridgehampton farm since 1930.

But now, the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, spurred by an unsolicited donation from a champion of the area’s environment, is poised to preserve the Hendrickson meteorological legacy in perpetuity. The group will unveil and dedicate the Richard G. Hendrickson Memorial Weather Station at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 11, at the Greenbelt’s Nature Center on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.

The National Weather Service has identified the South Fork as a “data-scarce” area. And it says the new station can provide the “quality data” to help close the information gap.

“It seems a perfect and fitting tribute,” said Dai Dayton, president of FLPG. “Richard was one of our very first supporters, and hHHHe was always a great lover of the Greenbelt. To many people, he was the weatherman forever. His own home was decommissioned as a weather station after he died … but now and forever, there will always be another weather station in Bridgehampton, and it will carry his name.”

How times have changed: Mr. Hendrickson hewed to venerable weather-data collection methods he’d deployed since the Great Depression, manually measuring wind, rain, snow, sleet, humidity and temperature from a weather station standing on stilts in the backyard of his Lumber Lane home. After collating information twice a day from his legacy rain gauge, snow collector, weather vane, wind-speed indicator, and trusty thermometers, he’d pick up his rotary phone and call it into the National Weather Service.

Contrast that personal touch with the computerized output of the contraption perched atop the third-floor observation deck of the Nature Center building, a roughly 3-foot-by-3-foot space where the 1.5-foot long by 1-foot high “AcuRite Professional Weather Station,” complete with app and self-calibrating technology, has been operating since Memorial Day.

The new weather station data collection module atop the third floor deck of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt field station.
The new weather station data collection module atop the third floor deck of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt field station.

What is it exactly? Well, in layman’s terms, “It’s a modernistic techno, whirly-giggy thing!” said Sandra Ferguson, vice president of FLPG. “It’s a piece of wireless gadgetry that streams 24-7 and transmits detailed online weather information every 12 minutes.”

Basically, it’s a sophisticated $200 piece of hardware with sensors that measure more than a dozen different weather conditions and send the data wirelessly to a receptor inside the building, which in turn is connected, via dedicated USB cable, to a $300 computer.

The readings — which include temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, wind gusts, barometric pressure, dew point and sunlight intensity — are stored and tracked on the computer and can be shared and uploaded to private sites like the Weather Underground and viewed by NWS forecasters.

Anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone can remotely access the data simply by going to the Weather Underground’s website and typing the following code in the search box at the top right-hand side of the page: “KNYBRIDG13.”

The irony of embracing this sleeker, techier, automated approach to honor the nation’s longest-serving volunteer weather observer — who never missed a day in 85 years and tallied over 150,000 individual weather observations, from exactly the same location and with basically the same equipment — is not lost on FLPG.

“You’ve got to give him credit,” Ms. Ferguson said. “He would always place a phone call to update his information…

“I know it sounds corny, but almost everyone on our board knew of him and his extraordinary contributions to recordkeeping, and we wanted to do something that would be a continuation of his lifetime of great service. This is the closest thing we could come up with to continue his legacy, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”

At the time of Mr. Hendrickson’s death, one of his old friends, Larry Penny, who had been natural resources and environmental protection director for the Town of East Hampton from 1984 to 2011, was feeling a tad guilty, he said.

Mr. Penny regretted that he had neither bought nor read the two books authored by Mr. Hendrickson, “Winds of the Fish’s Tail: Eastern Long Island Weather Observations and Folklore,” a 1996 work relating his experiences chronicling generations of weather on the East End, and “From the Bushy Plain of Bulls Head: Whisperings and Wanderings,” which he wrote in 2006, at the tender age of 94, and labeled a “memoir in verse and prose.”

Of course, it wasn’t too late to buy the books. But it was too late to tell Mr. Hendrickson he had bought them. So Mr. Penny, who writes “Nature Notes” for the East Hampton Star, said he wanted to do something to make it up to him.

“Shortly after Richard died, I thought, ‘Geez, I’ve just got to do something here,’ so I sent the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt a $1,000 check to use in his honor,” he said.

“But it was up to them to decide how they were going to use the gift, and it was their idea to build a weather station.”

The data terminal and laptop computer associated with the new weather station data collection module.
The data terminal and laptop computer associated with the new weather station data collection module.

At that point, FLPG reached out to Tim Morrin, the NWS weather-observation program leader for Long Island and New York City. Mr. Morrin had worked for years with Mr. Hendrickson, who was part of the NWS volunteer network of some 8,700 weather observers nationwide in the Cooperative Observer Program, a civilian army that dates to the 1890s and provides government meteorologists with daily detailed weather readings.

“It was important to them that the data was not only available to the general public, but that it would also be useful to the NWS,” he said. “We said, ‘Yes,’ as long as we had a part in the siting and installation of the equipment.”

Mr. Morrin made three site visits to coordinate the installation of the station and will be on hand Saturday for its dedication. But he also made it clear to FLPG that the station would be identified as a “supplementary weather station,” and it wouldn’t have the same “cooperative observer” status that Mr. Hendrickson’s had.

Why? That’s where human beings come in: “There would have to be someone there physically to record the data,” he said. “Even to this day, NWS’ official cooperative program requires it. Over all these decades, that’s pretty much unchanged.”

For instance, the automated station boasts a self-emptying rainfall collector cup. But Mr. Morrin says an observer station requires the manual use of legacy equipment, like the 8-inch diameter can and specially calibrated ruler Mr. Hendrickson would insert into it to collect and measure rain, no matter how inclement the weather.

Still, in an era in which the NWS launches hundreds of weather balloons a day into the upper atmosphere, the new Greenbelt station reinforces the critical importance of ground-based observations to climatology and forecasting, Mr. Morrin says.

“In today’s terms, it’s not a very sexy thing, and you don’t get a lot of fanfare,” he adds. “But without good surface observations, you can’t even get out of the starting block, and Richard knew that first hand. He would be proud to have his name on any addition of quality data.”

The dedication ceremony on Saturday is free and open to the public and a light luncheon will be served.