Family's weather tracking legacy honored
June 30, 2009
CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Fern White, 91, looks over a San Jon weather data archive collected by her family.
In aged pencil on yellowed paper, notes about the baby’s first tooth or daily chores mingled with the high and the low temperature for the day — a history of eastern New Mexico’s weather entwined with the legacy of Fern White’s family.
At 91, Fern White, now living in Clovis, is glad to have participated in history. Her contribution to weather is now etched in archives along with data three generations of her family have collected.
It’s been 100 years since the White family started charting San Jon’s weather for the National Weather Service.
Friday, White will be recognized by the weather service’s Albuquerque Bureau for her and her family’s contribution to recording the area’s weather history.
“I think it’s great to be recognized and I hope that people will learn and believe it’s important to do it,” she said.
“It’s educational, entertaining and historical — it’s history in the making.”
She never really thought about the time. The years the family invested in weather observation. Not until the weather service pointed out nearly a century had passed.
Weather’s been an integral part of White’s life since she married Clark White and joined a family of volunteer weather observers. But even before that weather was everything.
For homesteaders, their lives were tied to the land, the impact of rain that ruined crops or the lack of rain and high winds that led to the dust bowl in the 1930’s, tornados, snow storms and the other things nature threw at them — weather had an enormous impact on lives.
“It was so important. How much rain you got was real important, it was a real big subject to talk about” White said, recalling how the subject often dominated conversations at church and social gatherings.
In 1909, homesteaders Jesse and Arba White began cataloging the weather every day. Each day they dutifully wrote down the temperature and weather conditions on family calendars to be transcribed later on weather service forms and mailed once a month to the weather bureau.
After Arba died, Clark and Fern would drive out to the old homestead every day to check the thermometers protected inside the weather box, sometimes walking through snow to get to it when the road was impassable by car.
Eventually Fern and her husband, Clark White, moved the station in San Jon to their home. He took a job as postmaster in 1969.
When Fern White took over for her husband in 1969, she still walked to the weather box in the yard.
As the years passed, the weather service upgraded to digital equipment she could check from inside the house, though she still had to mail her monthly reports.
In 1999, Fern White handed the weather station over to her son, Gerald White, and moved to Clovis to be closer to her daughter, Carol Nash.
Looking back over old photographs, Carol Nash points out the little one-room house. The place her grandmother, Alba White, gave birth to a son.
Then there is the larger two-story house they eventually moved their family into — and the white weather box that stood on four legs in the front yard.
Compiling her family’s history, Nash has gathered old photos and newspaper pages, calendars. She even made models of the old white weather box.
With fondness she talks about her grandfather’s notes on seeing a rainbow, or a “sundog” or even comets and other astrological phenomenon.
“When it rained, you’d go get in the car and go out to see if the ditches were running,” she said, laughing.
“It was just part of life. I knew that my grandma took the weather everyday.”
However the White family’s history of weather observing in San Jon may end with the third generation.
“There’s nobody lined up,” White said with a smile. “They’ve all moved away.”
• A reception will be held by the weather service to honor Fern White at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Kingswood United Methodist Church, 2600 North Main Street.