Milan family has recorded weather for 112 years

MILAN -- We all have our daily routines, but Luther Opjorden keeps one that dates back three generations in his family and benefits all of us. Every day at 6 p.m. he steps outside of his home in Milan to record the day's weather for the National ...

MILAN -- We all have our daily routines, but Luther Opjorden keeps one that dates back three generations in his family and benefits all of us.

Every day at 6 p.m. he steps outside of his home in Milan to record the day's weather for the National Weather Service.

"It gets to the point that the day isn't complete until you've gone out and taken the temperature,'' said Opjorden with a laugh about his daily ritual.

He has made his days complete like this for 23 years, but he has a ways to go yet. His father, Torfinn Opjorden, kept track of the weather in Milan for the Weather Service for 57 years before he turned the duty over to him in May of 1982.

Torfinn was carrying on a practice that had been handed down to him. O.K Opjorden started this family tradition on Aug. 7, 1893, and dutifully recorded the weather until October 1921 when he turned the job over to his daughter, Miss R. Opjorden. She kept it up until her brother, Torfinn, took it over in January 1925.


That adds up to 112 years of continuous volunteer service by the family, enough to more than be noticed by the National Weather Service. It presented Luther Opjorden with its newly created Family Heritage Award earlier this month to recognize the family.

The Opjorden family is one of only three families in the entire Midwest to be honored for over 100 years of service as National Weather Service cooperative weather observers, according to Craig Edwards, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen.

The information collected by weather observers is used in the forecasts we all depend on in our daily lives, Edwards said.

He said that the data is also invaluable to the scientists who study the earth's climate. The average annual temperature has risen by 1.8 degrees since O.K. Opjorden started collecting his data, according to Luther Opjorden.

There is hardly a better place in the country to keep track of the weather than Luther Opjorden's back yard about one mile outside of Milan, according to Edwards. For over a century the site has been untouched by urban sprawl, which can affect local weather.

And, Milan's location at the mid-latitudes in the middle of the continent is ideal for observing the extremes of weather only Minnesotans and possibly the residents of Siberia can fully appreciate.

Luther Opjorden knows his work is appreciated, just about every day. He likes to start his days with a cup of coffee at the Moore Café in Milan, where local farmers are usually eager to hear his weather updates.

That's particularly true when the weather makes some big swings, he said.


That happens quite a bit, as only Opjorden can tell you. In his tenure as weather observer he's recorded temperatures as bone-chilling as minus 35 and as torrid as 101.

He added up the numbers as 98 inches of snow smothered the landscape during the winter of 1996-97, the most ever in 100 years of record keeping. He also collected just shy of 10 inches of rain that poured from the skies in just a few hours time on July 4, 1995.

Yet Opjorden grudgingly acknowledges that the greatest extremes were recorded by his father, who observed the weather that came during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Milan's temperature records were set in that decade, he said, with a minus 42 as the all-time low and 113 as the hottest ever.

Opjorden doesn't usually have to endure wild temperatures like that to carry out his role. The bigger challenge of being a weather observer is the duty to do the job every day. "It ties you down,'' said Opjorden.

Until just over 12 years ago, Opjorden had been a dairy farmer -- being tied down was a part of his life for a long time. He sold the herd and returned to school, and today he serves as a project manager for Engan and Associates in Willmar.

The job puts him on the road daily to Willmar and to construction sites all about, but not to worry. He has help waiting on those days he can't be home at 6 p.m. His wife, Martha, and neighbor Debbie Hanson make sure the recordings are dutifully and promptly taken.

Each day's recording includes the high, low and current temperature, and any rain or snow fall amounts. The information is relayed to the Weather Service by computer and recorded on paper by the observers.

Edwards said the Weather Service will be installing an electronic monitoring station at Opjorden's home in the near future. Opjorden will continue to manually read the station for two years to make certain there are no discrepancies.


Opjorden, age 60, said he intends to keep his family tradition for as long as he can. "You have to keep it going,'' he said.

He has no plans to ever leave Milan but said the family's tradition probably will end with him. His three children have found their careers elsewhere. He doesn't expect he will be able to hand the duty over to them as his father had to him.

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