Photo by Kimberly Vaughn
Mary Jo Lord-Wild and her husband, Jim Wild.

Photo by Kimberly Vaughn Mary Jo Lord-Wild and her husband, Jim Wild.

Local woman earns prestigious NOAA award

Thomas Jefferson award honors 47 years of volunteer service

Rain or shine, snow or sleet, almost every day since Nov. 11, 1974, Mary Jo Lord-Wild has stepped into her Elfin Cove yard and recorded the weather at 2:45 p.m.

As a volunteer for the National Weather Service, she notes the current temperature, the daily high and low and measures precipitation levels.

This week, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded her the Thomas Jefferson Award for outstanding service in the field of cooperative weather observations.

According to Kimberly Vaughan, who nominated Lord-Wild for the award, her climate observations are crucial for NOAA scientists to understand the relationships between what is observed on radar and what is reported on the ground.

“This is the most prestigious award given to an observer,” said Vaughan, who is the observing program leader for the National Weather Service in Juneau. “That takes a lot of dedication over 47 years.”

According to Vaughan, Lord-Wild and her husband, Jim, scarcely took a vacation together to ensure continuity of data collection.

In a Friday morning phone interview, Lord-Wild was humble about her award and her service.

“I’m just a person doing what needs to be done,” she said. But, she allowed that she was delighted—and a little startled— to learn that she had won the award.

“There are 8,000 people who take this measurement for the climate once a day all over the nation,” Lord-Wild said. “One of the loveliest things about the award was watching the presentation and seeing the 8,000 people working together. It’s great to feel connected.”

She described the data collection process as “ really quite wonderful.”

She said she always tries to guess the measurements before she takes them and that she appreciates the variety of the landscape she encounters each day.

“You never know what you’ll see,” she said, noting that she’s spied river otters, herons, and marine mammals over the years. She said the clouds pile up over mountains, and there’s always a great view to enjoy.

Lord-Wild, who grew up in California, said she’s glad she landed in Elfin Cove.

“My heart is there,” she said.

About the award

According to NOAA’s website, the Thomas Jefferson award “originated in 1959 as a way for the National Weather Service to honor cooperative weather observers for unusual and outstanding achievements in the field of meteorological observations. It is the highest award the NWS presents to volunteer observers. The award is named for Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. Jefferson, the statesman-scientist, made an almost unbroken series of weather observations from 1776 to 1816.”

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at or 907-308-4891.

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