Weather wise for 100 years

NWS Award and team
Left to right, in back: Jesse Stewart, SLCPU Deputy Director, Jeff Martin, Junior Plant Operator, Mike Gill, Plant Operator, Russ Ranck, Junior Plant Operator, Laura Briefer, SLCPU Director, Randy Graham, Meteorologist in Charge, NWS SLC. Front: Lisa Verzella, Observations Program Leader, NWS SLC

For 100 years – in rain, snow, and blazing heat — employees of the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities have recorded daily weather observations for the National Weather Service at the Big Cottonwood Water Treatment Plant. On Wednesday, November 15th, the NWS presented the team with its Honored Institution Award for providing a century of that documentation – essential to tracking long-term weather and climate trends for the Mountain West and United States.

The plant operations team collects the data at the Cottonwood Weir (weather station) as part of the NWS Cooperative Observer Program (COOP).

“It’s an honor to collaborate with the National Weather Service and to be recognized for our contributions to their research,” said Laura Briefer, Director of the Department of Public Utilities. “Our mission as a utility provider is directly linked to understanding our weather patterns, protecting our watershed, and building resilience in the face of climate change.”

Nearly 10,000 COOP volunteers work nationwide to take daily weather observations for NWS, said Lisa Verzella, Observations Program Leader. “The consistent weather data provided by the Department weather observers is immensely helpful to all of us in the Salt Lake City area. Tracking temperature and precipitation over the past century has helped define the area’s climate and significantly supports NWS forecasts, warnings and other public service programs. On a larger scale, these long-term weather observations are invaluable in learning more about the floods, droughts, heat and cold waves affecting us all.”

Randy Graham, NWS Meteorologist-in-Charge and Lisa Verzella presented the award to Laura Briefer on behalf of the Department.

This is the second time the Department has been honored for a century of weather monitoring. Last year, the Watershed Division received the Honored Institution Award for 100 years of collecting weather data at the Silver Lake site at Brighton in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Public Utilities was known as the Salt Lake City Water Department when it began observations at the Cottonwood Weir in 1917. The station’s first weather observer was William H. Staker, AKA the “Municipal Reservoir Watchman.” He took daily rain and snow measurements at the site at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon for 40 years.

Cottonwood Weir inside.jpg
Dominque Martin, Senior Operator at the Big Cottonwood Water Treatment Plant, checks equipment at the Cottonwood Weir.

A succession of dedicated weather observers has gathered temperature and precipitation data and relayed it back to the Salt Lake City weather forecast office. The accurate and reliable data assists in measuring long-term climate change and provides observational meteorological data in near real-time to support forecast, warning, and other public service programs of the NWS.

Mike Gill, Lead Operator of the Big Cottonwood Water Treatment Plant, has supervised the weather team since 2008. Data is measured each day at 5 p.m. and transmitted to the NWS.

Highlights of the 100 years of Cottonwood Weir weather observations include:

  • 1942: Temperature instrumentation installed, with a maximum and minimum thermometer
  • 1967: Automated precipitation gauge installed, with punch tape mechanism
  • 1969: Records specify Big Cottonwood Water Treatment Plant staff as weather observers
  • 2000: Digital temperature equipment installed
  • 2012: Automated precipitation gauge goes digital
  • 2017: 100 years of weather observations


To learn more about Salt Lake City’s Department of Public Utilities, please visit:

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