View of G. Fay Dickerson
The period of
time that I worked for the Weather Bureau was approximately November,
1942, to December 31, 1949. A friend told me about a woman who had
just been hired by the Weather Bureau. I telephoned the downtown office
for information and was disappointed to learn that one could not apply
for a particular location, but that a training class would begin shortly
in Kansas City, Missouri. I applied and was accepted.
one year at the University of Denver and was looking for a job that
would enable me to continue my studies. Part-time jobs were very low
paying, so full-time work for the U.S. Weather Bureau was an attractive
alternative. I had taught in two different rural schools in Chase
County, Nebraska, right after high school. During this time, I had
summer school at Colorado State College of Education in Greeley (now
the University of Northern Colorado) and had taken one or two correspondence
courses from the University of Nebraska - the one I recall was an
English composition class. The other may have been in educational
psychology. In my freshman year at the University of Denver, I selected
library science as my major.
Regional Office observation training class for new
Weather Bureau employees
I was enrolled at a Weather Bureau training class
that met near the old Kansas City Municipal Airport by the Missouri
River. I stayed in a fine old house on Swope Parkway that had been
adapted for working women or students. I do not remember the composition
of the class nor the number, but some of the students appeared to
have had previous weather observing experience or meteorological studies.
I was conscious of my comparative inexperience. The instructor, an
attractive Finnish-American meteorologist, was an excellent teacher.
She made us aware of our future responsibilities as weather observers
and took advantage of the winter fog for practice observations. We
also observed or helped with some balloon runs but more time was spent
in the classroom setting.
After six weeks, at the conclusion of the course,
I was assigned to North Platte, instead of Denver. Here, on-the job
training continued. The Weather Bureau Manual remained an essential
guide for study and for quick reference. Independently, I studied
a high school physics text. Much later, after becoming an assistant
to the research forecaster, I did some reading in statistics. I was
received very well by the Weather Bureau employees. There was enough
routine work to keep each person Busy and special weather conditions
required constant attention. Observers welcomed their replacement
at the end of an 8-hour shift and usually had special information
or experiences to share. In North Platte, my primary friends were
from work; in Denver, good relationships continued, but I was less
dependent on friends at work for I had returned to a familiar city.
Though I have not kept in touch with friends from
WB days, that is more a factor of physical distance than of disinterest.
I recall that in North Platte the chief observer (I've forgotten the
title) preferred assigning a woman to the task of climbing a pole
above one of the hangars to remove the anemometer, carry it down for
checking, and then replacing it. The climb intimidated me but I tried
not to show it, knowing that this was his way of testing the stamina
of women observers.
A first and lasting impression of the Weather Bureau
is of responsible, dedicated professionals. The women were welcomed,
careful work was appreciated, and forecasters or more experienced
observers were available for consultation. Another impression, because
the small building at North Platte was shared with the CAA in one
room and the Weather Bureau in another, is of cooperation and interdependence
among the offices. They sent our reports and we received teletype
reports from them. The CAA communicated directly with in-flight pilots
and informed us of unusual or changing weather conditions. One of
the men, an "old hand" in the CAA with weather experience, had a calming
manner and was very supportive during some of my first thunderstorms
when I was the only observer on duty.
In North Platte, the routine duties included hourly
and more detailed 6-hourly weather reports which were entered by teletype.
As infommation was received we plotted the 6-hourly map which had
considerably more detail when there was frontal activity and changeable
weather conditions. These included low ceilings, reduced visibility,
precipitation, thunderstorm activity, and strong wind. Whenever conditions
changed, a special weather report was given to the CAA for immediate
The same schedule was followed in Denver, but the
office had its own teletype communications. Here a more detailed map
was plotted, often by two observers so that it would be available
as soon as possible for the forecaster.
The most accurate information was taken from instruments:
the thermometer, the wet bulb, the ceiling light, the anemometer.
A theodolite was used to chart and time the ascent of a balloon with
the ceiling being the height at which the balloon disappeared into
the cloud layer. Later plotting gave wind velocity and direction at
certain levels. At night a small candle in a paper lantern or a battery
light was attached to the balloon. The ceiling light at a stationary
position was an earlier device that helped the observer estimate the
ceiling height. A temperature and dew point formula was useful for
estimating the height of cumulus clouds. Radiosonde equipment was
introduced during my time at North Platte. This still involved the
use of a balloon, but a much larger one, and a transmitting device
was attached instead of the lantern and light. The data was electronically
plotted on graph paper and when interpreted provided accurate information
about air pressure in millibars, temperature and humidity as well
as wind direction and speed at much higher levels.
In North Platte, there was a regular rotation of
the day, evening, and night shifts. At Stapleton, with a larger observer
staff, there were more opportunities to adjust shifts to account for
personal preferences. After 1945, I worked more nights so that I could
take evening classes at the University of Colorado's Denver Extension.
Then, during the last year or so when I was assistant to the research
forecaster, I had the luxury of straight days. We were on an 8-hour,
5-days a week, 40 hours a week schedule. During some of the war years,
there was a 6-day schedule with overtime paid for the sixth day. There
was a salary adjustment shortly after regular overtime ended.
I recall that there were two men and four women at
North Platte. In Denver, a forecasting station, there was a much larger
number, including forecasters, telephone operators, and administrative
personnel. An average number of observers may have been four men and
five or six women, but I was there for almost four years after the
war when some women left the Bureau or were transferred, and some
The morale on station was generally excellent. Observers
helped each other when duties were heavier in one area than another.
Frequently, one would stay overtime or come in a bit early just to
help a fellow observer. We enjoyed composing short, well worded messages
that explained unusual and/or changing conditions. We had friendly
competition about the length-of-time required to plot a map.
I left the Weather Bureau on December 30, 1949. I
had passed the qualifying examination for a permanent position, and
was somewhat apprehensive about giving up the security of the Weather
Bureau, but it was time for me to finish undergraduate work at the
University of Colorado. This I afforded by withdrawing my accumulated
retirement funds. Later, I earned an MA at McCormick Theological Seminary
in Chicago, and an MLS from Rutgers University, School of Library
and Information Services.
The high point of my Weather Service Career definitely
was the news that after about a year and a half in North Platte, my
request for transfer to Denver was being honored. Although I am a
Nebraskan and,have a great deal of loyalty to the state and its literary
figures, I had lived and studied in Denver, had more friends there,
and wanted to retum. I cannot recall any real low.
As I recall, we were most occupied by work details
in our specific location. I did not specifically think of my work
as a contribution to the war effort, but as a service for everyone.
Earlier, the Bureau had been under the U.S. Department of Agriculture
and current weather information, forecasts, and annual statistics
remained a service to farmers and urban dwellers alike.
However, the Weather Bureau was essential for all
air traffic during this period. At Lee Bird Field in North Platte,
pilots on training missions who were detained by the weather often
waited in our small offices. Some shared their knowledge of the weather
and a few offered to help launch a balloon when wind and precipitation
made the task awkward for a single observer on a night shift. In Denver,
on VE Day, some reporters came out to Stapleton for a cursory interview
with those on the evening shift. I remember feeling that they were
only superficially aware of the Weather Bureau's importance; there
was more excitement elsewhere.
Would I do it again? Yes, if I were in my twenties.
Though I applied because I needed the money, it was never just a job
for me. There was satisfaction in the hard work, in knowing that we
earned our pay doing essential work. I feel that being a competent
team player was one of my major contributions.
The most beautiful rainbow imaginable appeared after
a particularly stormy, rainy, low-ceiling night. When I went up on
the roof to take the first daylight observation, the clean deep blue-gray
stratus had broken at the eastern horizon showing the rising sun.
Over the western mountains was a perfect rainbow affirming the glory
of the morning. I paused, but when I returned after completing the
observation all was quite ordinary again.
Bureau personnel sometimes were permitted complimentary, orientation
flights. My first was from North Platte to Denver with a CAA pilot.
I mentioned that my parents lived on a farm which was on a direct
line from North Platte to Denver. We flew low enough for my mother
to come outside and look up. It was of passing interest for her, but
I retain a memory of that peaceful, early spring scene. A more exciting
flight was the result of a routine flight from Denver to Grand Junction,
Colorado, on Slick Airlines, a local service, flown by veteran pilots
from Denver, to Grand Junction, to Salt Lake City. Betty, the other
observer and I were not permitted to go on to Salt Lake City. After
landing, instead of just waiting for the return flight, we accepted
the invitation of one of the few paying passengers. He had chartered
a four passenger plane to avoid a long, difficult drive to the Rangely
oil fields in the northwest corner of Colorado. There was time for
us to ride along on the round trip and we would see new scenery and
have a lesson in geology and oil shale deposits from the engineer.
The two men began looking for deer which the pilot said he always
saw on this route. None were visible. On the return, Betty wisely
chose to stay put, but I moved up to have a better view. The pilot
remained obsessed to maintain his record, believing that we were as
eager to see deer as he was to point them out. We flew rather too
low for my comfort. As we skimmed above high mountains and then came
to deep valleys, I had the sensation of driving off a high cliff.
I assured him that we were not that interested in seeing the deer
which probably were enjoying an afternoon siesta, but he kept peering
below out the left window. We saw donkeys quite clearly. If rabbits
had been out we think we would have seen them. The meal at Grand Junction
Airport was quite ordinary, but two Denver observers were happy to
be on the ground waiting for the DC-3 to return from Salt Lake City.
One Denver night, when I was the observer on duty and there was considerable
ground fog and a broken low ceiling, an employee of one of the major
commercial airlines called and asked to speak to the observer on duty.
He said that their pilot could see the ground from 1000 feet altitude
and he wanted the observer to watch him and send a special report
raising the ceiling so that he could land. I responded that I could
send a special report with his name, but that I had no way of looking
up and estimating a plane's height as basis for such a report. This
the pilot refused. Probably he knew the airport and was confident
that he could manage the situation but did not want to be held responsible.
The flight diverted to Colorado Springs. Now, in the days of radar
and other sophisticated equipment, low ceilings and ground fog are
not such a hazard. However, whenever I am on a flight that routinely
lands in spite of conditions that formerly would have closed the airport,
I recall the very different rules of forty years long past and our
careful following of those rules. I retired as general editor of the
American Theological Library Association Indexes in 1983 to be a partner
in a free lance service. But, in late 1986, returned to edit the primary
index, Religion Index One: Periodicals. From this position I retired
in May, 1990.