CATTARAUGUS - You'd think operating a 183 acre acre farm and milking upwards of 80 head of cows twice a day would keep a man busy enough. But somehow, Cattaraugus dairyman Joe Pagett found a little extra time day in and day out for 21 years, to gather and transmit atmospheric readings for the National Weather Service.
In so doing, Pagett earned the second highest award given by that organization to its field observers. The John Campanius Holm Award is bestowed for outstanding accomplishment in the field of meteorological observation, in the tradition of its namesake, Holm, who was the earliest known systematic weather observer in North America (1645).
To present this award, two representatives from the NWS made their way to Cattaraugus, and from there to the Pagett farm high atop Snyder Hill. Meteorologist in Charge Tom Nizioi and Program Coordinator Dan Kelly admitted they were impressed and hazarded a guess that Pagett had as good a view of the weather as anyone they've met.
Local dairyman/weather observer Joe Pagett, accepts the National Weather Service’s second-highest award, the John Campanius Holm Award from NWS Meteorologist in Charge Thomas A. Nizioi, left, and Observation Program Coordinator Dan Kelly, right. Both men work at the National Weather Service’s Buffalo headquarters located at 587 Aero Drive.
Standing on either side of his trusty rain gauge: Joe Pagett and his wife Jeannie, with son Trevor and his wife Erin and their 22-month-old dynamo, Elliott. Parked in the background are some of Joe’s farm wagons. Trevor has been helping his dad with the daily grind of farm work since (another) shoulder injury put him partially out of commission.
The two introduced themselves to the family, which on this particular day included Joe and his wife Jeannie, one of their four children, Trevor, along with his wife Erin and their energetic 22-month-old, Elliott. The group spent a comfortable hour in the Pagett's kitchen sampling some of Jeannie's delectable apricot meringue bars and swapping weather trivia. Nizioi, who has worked with the weather service since 1980, explained that it is administered under the United States Department of Commerce. In answer to a question from Erin, he answered, "At our Buffalo headquarters, located near the airport, we have fifty different computer models of regional weather patterns."
The Pagetts were curious about whether the TV weather reporters are meteorologists in their own right. "Most of them are," responded Nizioi. "Don Paul, for instance, is a stickler. He comes down to our headquarters almost daily - sometimes several times a day."
Kelly, who is newer to the service, asked Pagett how he had come to get involved in the data collection program. "Well," answered Pagett, "there was a neighbor lady, Mrs. Leigh Earle, just down the road who used to do it. When she moved away, she suggested that I take it on. So I did."
"And he's been doing it ever since," chimed in Jeannie.
Drawn back outdoors by the sun-dappled panorama, Kelly and Nizioi held a slightly wind-whipped presentation ceremony. With the citation flapping in the breeze, Nizioi read: "For exemplary reporting of meteorological observations from New Albion, New York. Your highly accurate and detailed temperature and precipitation records are a valuable resource to the nation's climate and weather program. Your extraordinary public service for 21 years will make a lasting contribution to the communities who work to advance agriculture, transportation and commerce."
Before they left, the two NWS men accepted Jeannie's invitation to "come see my goats." There are still about eighty head of stock on the farm, in addition to a pair of Percheron draft horses, who seemed a source of great fascination for young Elliott. The Pagetts, like many dairy farmers, recently sold off much of their dairy--72 head. Jeannie's goats are presently the only milking animals left on the place. She cares for them personally, converting the milk into goat milk fudge. "I'd like to try some goat cheese this year," she said.
As the two NWS men took their leave, Nizioi paused and turned back. "You know," he said to Pagett. "You keep this up for another couple of years and you'll be in line for our highest honor. That one's the Thomas Jefferson Award." He explained that Jefferson was known as an avid weather watcher who faithfully recorded his observations in a journal spanning many years. He could have been describing Joe.