Adiós Nolan Doesken, good luck in retirement

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist since 2006 and the assistant state climatologist for many years before that, is retiring. He plans to scale back his workload to about quarter time starting with Colorado State University’s fall semester.

That means he might not be traveling as much to the Eastern Plains to talk to farmers about what they can expect from their crops this year or to the Western Slope to talk about the implications of the snowpack.

He may be less available to news organizations across the state that need historical context for stories about floods, droughts tornadoes, blizzards, heat waves, cold snaps, and so on.

During his 40 years at the Colorado Climate Center in CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science, Nolan established himself as a researcher and record keeper but also as something of a celebrity, in a low-key and good humored way.

He could connect with anyone. He was adept at community engagement and outreach before they became buzz words.

My first contact with Nolan was in 1990, when I was an intern at the Denver Post. The editors had me doing some weather story.

I don’t remember the story but I remember calling Nolan and chatting him up. He was gracious and patient in explaining weather in terms I — and therefore the general public — could understand.

Six years later, I moved to Fort Collins to work for the Coloradoan. I spoke to Nolan regularly for weather stories, although his interest wasn’t so much in forecasting what the high temperature would be the next day but rather long-range trends and outlooks.

Fort Collins, Spring Creek flood July 28, 1997

The aftermath of the 1997 flood in Fort Collins brought us together a lot. We both wanted to understand and explain what happened that night.

For Nolan, that led to the start of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network, or CoCoRaHS, which has volunteers record and report daily precipitation amounts and significant weather events.

The program has grown from its roots in Fort Collins to every state in the country and into Canada and the Bahamas. It has more than 20,000 volunteers.

I’m pretty sure I wrote the first story about CoCoRaHS. Nolan had organized a volunteer recruiting event and I agreed to cover it.

A retirement party at CSU’s Foothills Campus on Wednesday was well attended by colleagues from the university and the National Weather Service. But there were also representatives from the city of Fort Collins, water districts and regional ditch companies who knew and appreciated Nolan for his work and personality.

Stories were shared, including a misadventure to Maybell, Colorado, in February 1985 to verify a measurement of minus-61 degrees F, the all-time minimum temperature recorded in the state. The story involved someone (not Nolan) sitting on and breaking a thermometer.

Nolan, a native of rural central Illinois, recalled how he felt unqualified to take the assistant state climatologist job in 1977. He knew little about Colorado agriculture and he lacked the five years of experience in mountain weather required in the job description. He had about 19 days.

But it worked out. And Colorado and the Climate Center have been better for it.

Nolan received cards and gifts from friends, including an automated weather station and a sword-like instrument for measuring snow depths.

From the Coloradoan, he received an umbrella decorated with images from the Sunday comics page.

I knew he didn’t have an umbrella. Why would he? We don’t use umbrellas much in Colorado because it hardly ever rains, right?

But if you ever want to know exactly how much it rains here and why, you need only ask Nolan Doesken. He’ll be pleased to tell you.

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