History of Weather Observations at Colby
Thomas Jefferson encouraged citizens of the new country to maintain weather records as a means of describing an important resource. His example produced some early records along the east coast, but weather observations did not come to the Plains until the 19th century. At that time, the Surgeon General suspected that there was a connection between the health of the army's soldiers and the weather. He ordered the physicians at each army post to take and maintain weather records. So it was that the earliest weather records in Kansas were started at Ft. Leavenworth (1836), Ft. Scott (1843), Ft. Wallace (1870), Ft. Atkinson (1850), Ft. Larned (1860), Ft. Dodge (1867), and Ft. Ellsworth (1866). Little use was made of these records; they were shipped to the War Department in Washington and stored. As the need for a military presence declined on the frontier, many of the outposts were abandoned along with their weather stations.
Invention of the telegraph provided a means for dispersing weather information at a speed that would eventually make weather forecasting possible. Control of the Army weather observation program then changed from the Surgeon General to the Chief Signal Officer. Volunteer observers were sought to keep weather records at their place of residence. Not surprisingly, the majority of the early observing stations in Kansas were along the route of the Union Pacific railroad, where there was easy access to the telegraph.
In 1886, the Chief Signal Officer assigned Sgt. T. B. Jennings to Topeka to extend the network of voluntary observers across the state. His efforts led to the establishment of a weather station in Colby on June 1, 1888, with C. E. Bennett as the observer (Table 1). Mr. Bennett ceased to function in this capacity on July 31, 1889, and the station was closed until being restarted by Charles Buschow on May 7, 1892. Daily weather records have been made continuously in Colby since that time.
The Colby Branch Experiment Station was established in 1914 with the express purpose of finding solutions to agricultural problems created by the weather of northwestern Kansas. At the time of its founding, the area was beset by soil blowing from cultivated fields and being deposited in drifts several feet deep along fences and in ditches. Since the official weather station was located downtown at 4th and Garfield, with G. H. Kinkel as observer, the early weather records kept at the Experiment Station were unofficial and did not become part of the weather archives.
In 1935, J. B. Kuska became the official observer in Colby at his home at 585 N. Court. Mr. Kuska was the head of the USDA Dry Land project at the Colby Branch Experiment Station, so the official weather station in Colby became closely linked with the research activities. When Mr. Kuska retired as the weather observer in 1957, it was only natural to move the official weather station to the experiment station, where various members of the staff have continued the weather records begun before the turn of the century.
The several changes in location of the weather station should have little effect on continuity of the records, because all the locations were within a mile of one another. However, when the weather station was moved to the experiment station on March 28, 1957, the time of observation was changed from evening to morning. Such a change can noticeably alter the average temperature as well as any other calculations using air temperatures. Those searching for climatic changes or trends must be aware of this change in time of observation.