Farewell to Richard Hendrickson, Bridgehampton’s Stalwart Weather Observer

Richard G. Hendrickson looks out over the Atlantic Ocean on a stormy day in Bridgehampton, New York (1930s). Photo: D.L. Hendrickson.
Richard G. Hendrickson looks out over the Atlantic Ocean on a stormy day in Bridgehampton, New York (1930s). Photo: D.L. Hendrickson.

In the world of weather observers, Richard Hendrickson was a legend. Every day, for more than 80 years, Mr. Hendrickson took to his backyard Bridgehampton weather station to document the temperature and winds, rainfall and snow totals.

Reporters on deadline looking for weather data after a big storm would always smile when they saw the National Weather Service’s stalwart Bridgehampton data point online, knowing the man behind that data could be counted on for any occasion.

Mr. Hendrickson died Saturday at the Westhampton Care Center at the age of 103.

Richard Hendrickson grew up on his family’s farm in Bridgehampton, where he rode out the Hurricane of 1938. At the age of 27 at the time of the storm, he’d already been a volunteer with the National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observer Program for nearly a decade.

I sat with Mr. Hendrickson for several hours at his home just before the 70th anniversary of the storm, back in 2008, where he recounted, as he often did, how 300 of his chickens had simply blown away, never to be seen again, about how all the leaves and apples had been blown from the trees, about the toppling of the steeple of Sag Harbor’s Old Whalers Church and the devastation farther east in Montauk and Napeague.

Mr. Hendrickson wrote a book about the Hurricane of ’38, “Winds of the Fish’s Tail,” published in 1996.

From the time I began working as a reporter in Sag Harbor nearly two decades ago, Richard Hendrickson was always available to talk about the weather. He kept track of the changing seasons, the droughts and rainy spells, and regularly graced our pages with columns about his observations.

Richard G. Hendrickson, 101 years old, gathered weather data for the National Weather Service after a snowstorm in Bridgehampton in 2014 | Sara Hendrickson photo courtesy NOAA
Richard G. Hendrickson, 101 years old, gathered weather data for the National Weather Service after a snowstorm in Bridgehampton in 2014 | Sara Hendrickson photo courtesy NOAA

He would always welcome members of the press to come see his weather station, essentially a little white box on legs in his backyard, where two thermometers measured the high and low temperatures of the day, a rain gauge measured snow and rainfall, and a weather vane and a wind speed indicator told the wind’s tale. He would always patiently explain how he took his measurements and the highlights of his years of observation.

Mr. Hendrickson was honored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2014 for his 84 years of service to the Cooperative Observer Program, the longest length of service ever recorded in the country.

NOAA’s 80-year service award is now named after him.

The program, which began in the 1890s, now has more than 8,700 observers throughout the country.

At the time he received the award, according to NOAA, Mr. Hendrickson had “filed twice daily reports, tallying more than 150,000 individual weather observations – playing a critical role in building our nation’s climate history.”

Visitation will be held Friday, Jan. 22 at Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. and a funeral will be held at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church on Jan. 23 at 11 a.m., followed by burial at Bridgehampton’s Edgewood Cemetery.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

2 thoughts on “Farewell to Richard Hendrickson, Bridgehampton’s Stalwart Weather Observer

  • January 11, 2016 at 11:35 am
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    Richard Hendrickson was a dear friend. He lived a great life but I’m still very sad. He would stop by our potato packing house on Butter Lane and tell me the history of how it was built and what was there before. He gave me and signed both books to me which I will always treasure. Richard being Swedish and me being born in Norway, we loved talking about Viking history. I gave him a coffee table book my wife gave me on Viking history based on archeological findings. We would often talk about how that history differed from folklore. I hired Richard on behalf of the Long Island Builders Institute to gather wind data over 50 mph he kept since 1930. He gave me the data, hand written on legal size paper with supporting comments and newspaper article he had collected. We gave that data to the NYS Building Code, Code Council to show that the 110 mph sustained wind zone only the eastern tip of Long Island was subject to was an arbitrary number and not supported by actual weather data from the east end. I still have a copy of what we sent to Albany. When I visited Richard at his house, he showed me his weather data in stacks upon stacks of legal sized note paper with neatly hand written entries. It certainly must have been a daunting task to sift through all those piles of paper to extract only wind data over 50 mph however he did it with pride and it absolutely amazed me being so reliant on computers. I loved to sit and hear Richard recount the history of Bridgehampton and Southampton. His mind was so sharp. He was a firm believer no houses should have been allowed to be built on the ocean and their demise from storms were well deserved. I will miss Richard terribly and I will miss his talks with me even more. I believe I’m a better man and better informed by getting to know him and that’s a great legacy to leave behind. RIP my dear friend, we will meet again some day.

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