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Pandora man tracks weather for 52 years


`I sleep a lot in the daytime,' says weather observer Ray Burkholder, checking his electronic temperature system.

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PANDORA - From record-breaking high temperatures to snow piled to the rooftops, Ray Burkholder has been capturing climate conditions for decades.

Mr. Burkholder has reported to the National Weather Service about weather conditions in Pandora, Ohio, every day for 52 years.

“Ray is an incredible individual. He has the best equipment out of any observer I've ever seen. All his records are just perfect,” said Aaron Stevens, a technician for the National Weather Service.

Because of his dedication, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration selected Mr. Burkholder as one of 27 winners of the Environmental Hero Award this year.

Greg Hernandez, a spokesman for the association, said the hero award, which honors volunteers, is very competitive.

“We try to recognize people who actually get out there and help us with describing and predicting the weather,” he said.

When Mr. Burkholder, 84, began taking readings for the weather service, he recorded temperature and precipitation information daily at sunrise. He switched to midnight readings in 1963.

“I sleep a lot in the daytime, and I have an alarm to wake me up,” he said.

Mr. Burkholder has received several other honors for his volunteer weather observing, including the Jefferson Award, given to five of 11,000 weather observers each year, and the Edward H. Stoll Award for 50 years of service.

Mr. Burkholder became interested in the weather as a boy, when his parents took him to visit an observing station in Ottawa, Ohio.

He became a weather observer when the man running the Ottawa station died.

“Being a farmer, I always need to be interested in precipitation. In school I was always interested in arithmetic, and observing gives me something to work with,” Mr. Burkholder said.

Mr. Burkholder is a lifetime resident of the Pandora area and graduated from Crawfis College High School in 1935.

His father promised that if he graduated first in his class, he could go to college. After earning his place as valedictorian, Mr. Burkholder attended Bluffton College for three days.

“My father was in his 60th year, and he begged me to help him with the farm. So that was the extent of my college education,” he said.

So Mr. Burkholder became a farmer by trade, raising corn, soybeans, wheat, and tomatoes. When he began farming, he used horses instead of tractors.

“We farmed just the same as the Amish do today,” he said.

Just as farming technology has changed over the years, Mr. Burkholder has updated his methods of checking the weather.

He now uses an electronic thermometer accurate to a tenth of a degree. The thermometer even has wires that go into the house to give temperature readings on a digital screen.

But some things never change. Mr. Burkholder still uses the tube-shaped rain gauge that he bought in 1948.

Mr. Burkholder said his consistent nightly readings are due partly to his family. When he has been ill or traveled abroad, his wife and nine children have made reports to the National Weather Service.

In addition to recording the weather, Mr. Burkholder often has lent a helping hand when weather conditions get too rough.

As a member of the Mennonite Disaster Service, Mr. Burkholder has aided people caught in weather emergencies in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.

He recalled helping at the scene of a nasty tornado that killed 32 people in Xenia, Ohio.

“Whenever there's a severe storm, flood, or fire, we come from far and wide to help fix the things that were destroyed,” he said.

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