NWS honors St. Gertrudes, Sister Wemhoff for service

Bruce Beauck (far left) and Corby Dickerson (center) of the Missoula, Montana, headquarters of the National Weather Service with Prioress Sister Mary Forman (left) and Sister Placida Wemhoff (far right).

COTTONWOOD – Representatives from the National Weather Service Missoula office visited the Monastery of St. Gertrude last week to commend 80 years of weather reporting service.

At a noon ceremony last Wednesday, May 8, Bruce Beauck, meteorologist in charge, and Corby Dickerson, meteorologist, presented the Monastery with a plaque honoring 80 years of being an active weather station. Sister Placida Wemhoff was also honored for 40 years of monitoring and data recording.

“It’s truly amazing to have a weather station endure, unchanged, for so long,” said Dickerson.

Beauck added, “This is a rare weather site. Wherever you go people are talking about the climate and the only way to accurately measure weather is to have a station that doesn’t change.” He explained how the surroundings of weather stations are often developed and paved, which raises temperatures in the immediate area.

In contrast, St. Gertrude’s hillside weather station and its surroundings have remained unchanged since John Jorgensen began it in 1939. In 1941, St. Gertrude’s employee Sabi Frei took over and checked it daily until near the end of his life in 1980. Then the monastery’s director of maintenance and operations (M&O) Sr. Bertha Vogel, along with a team of other sisters that included Sr. Placida, kept up the monitoring.

In 1993, Wemhoff became the main weather reporter as part of her responsibilities as the new M&O director.

“I check it every evening at 5:30 right after evening prayer so I don’t forget,” she said.

The Monastery of St. Gertrude weather station

The Monastery of St. Gertrude weather station is near the Stations of the Cross.

The weather station consists of a wooden box that has three thermometers that register the day’s high, low, and present temperatures. There are also two rain gauges (daily and monthly) for recording precipitation and a ruler that measures snowfall to the tenth of an inch. Wemhoff submits data to the Missoula headquarters each month and sends weekly reports to the Cottonwood Chronicle.

“It’s just part of the job,” said Wemhoff. “It is interesting for me to compare the years and share the information with the sisters.” In February 2019 she recorded 67.5 inches of snow, which is the most for February at the Monastery site for recorded history.

Beauck said that in his 33-year career he has never given a 40-year award to an individual for weather station reporting and has awarded a 75-plus institution weather station award only a handful of times.

“In looking at climate patterns across the United States and having reliable data, this weather station is just invaluable. On a scale of one to ten, this is a ten. You just don’t get weather stations like this — and Sr. Placida has done a fabulous job of maintaining this weather station.”

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