RACINE — Weather forecasts of the past look much different than they do today.
"We had teletype machines, we got a facsimile," long-time TMJ4 Chief Meteorologist Paul Joseph said. But even with that technology, he wanted more local reports.
"We started the observer network," Joseph said.
One of those observers was Ken Leudtke, also known as "Ken in Racine."
"It has become more of a passion than a hobby," said Ken.
A passion that has kept Ken Leudtke calling in weather reports to TMJ4 for 40 years. Ken's love of weather started earlier than that, as a teen on the waters of Lake Michigan.
"I was probably studying meteorology before I even knew I was," said Ken.
Sailing on the big lake, the forecast mattered. Ken studied, measured, and recorded the weather from his home in Racine. Then, he took a class.
"In 1981, I took a course from Jim Ott down at Parkside," said Ken.
"Ken stopped up after class one night and said, 'you know, you don't have a Racine weather observer,' and he volunteered to do it," former TMJ4 meteorologist Jim Ott explained.
Ken is a photographer by trade, but he has been a volunteer weather observer for TMJ4 ever since he took that class.
"I just love doing it, it's a fascinating science," said Ken.
In the 80s and 90s the weather observer network was quite large.
"We had farmers up in Horicon, we had Bill Brown up in Pewaukee, these names were known in the communities because we used their observations for years, Tony in Mukwonago, we had Ken," Joseph said.
"They helped to fill in some of the spots on the map that we didn't have any weather data for," Ott said.
Observers would call with reports multiple times a day, including data such as high and low temperature, direction of the wind, speed, peak wind gust of the day, and precipitation. Ken doesn't take all the credit for his years of reporting.
"It wasn't just me; my wife Dianne has been part of it also," he said.
Their schedules were arranged so they could be home when reports needed to be called in.
"Lunch time, we were around at 4 o'clock, we were around at 9 o'clock, just that was the routine, we had to be here," said Dianne.
Over the years, Ken and Dianne have been recognized by the station for their dedication and commitment to helping make TMJ4 weather reports more complete.
"Ken takes his job very seriously, and I admire that," meteorologist Brian Niznansky said.
"You don't even hear about that kind of dedication when you're getting paid, let alone just to do it because you love it and want to help out," meteorologist Brian Gotter added.
Now, after 40 years of observing, recording, and calling, Ken is retiring from his position as TMJ4 weather observer.
"It's 40 years, I guess it's time to quit," Ken said.
"He's calling Malan, and Jim Ott, and Paul Joseph, all those years, that's incredible," Gotter said.
"An absolutely incredible amount of service to his community and to us at Today's TMJ4," Ott added.
"He's the last one, and he's done it for 40 years, what can you say but wow, amazing," said Joseph.