Bob Arnson cannot access Internet weather reports from the cab of his tractor and he is usually too busy to listen to the radio forecast, let alone turn on a television set. Instead, he relies on a phone call to his weather station to find out what Mother Nature has in store.
"You can stay on the line to talk person-to-person to find out which way the wind's from, how hard it's blowing," he said.
What television and the Internet does for weather junkies, the National Weather Service station in Williston does for farmers in the outer reaches of northwestern North Dakota. It has held on to a simple philosophy in the complex world of cyberspace and satellite imagery: If low-tech works, why fix it?
Arnson and others worry they may lose their direct contact if the station is closed as part of a plan to modernize the agency.
"You can call them and say, 'This is what I need to know,' and they can tell you." Arnson said. "You can't replace that."
When Arnson calls for the forecast, his calls are answered by folks such as Jim Assid, a technician who also fields queries from contractors, lifeguards and lawyers.
"You've got to know all kinds of things -- dry times for concrete, temperatures for sugar beets," he said. "The farmers -- every year they dog you. The lawyers will call and ask if the sun was shining at 2:15 on the 30th, because their client was in a wreck and claimed it was in his eyes."
The Williston station is one of the few to survive a 10-year-old plan that has closed more than 150 -- or about half -- of the National Weather Service's offices nationwide.
The outpost, about 165 miles northwest of Bismarck, still uses outdated radar that in other places has been replaced by high-tech Doppler systems, which can detect rain and track wind speed and even bugs. Williston is probably the only station in the continental United States where radio forecasts feature recorded human voices rather than a computerized simulation.
"These last few have just been lingering for years," said John Sokich, a meteorologist in the weather service's planning and policy office in Silver Spring, Md.
Objections from local officials and doubts about whether other radar stations can reach this rural corner of the state have helped keep Williston open.
But it still is considered a station whose days are numbered.
The Weather Channel is still the top place to tune in for weather. The 22-year-old Atlanta-based cable network is a proven winner, with more than 87 million subscribers and a popular Web site that averages 20 million hits per month.
In the past, the weather service needed twice as many offices because its employees were physically observing the weather. Today, most stations have more computer screens than windows.
"Because of technological advancements and improvements," said Dennis McCarthy, the agency's central region director, "there are ways to see what's going on without actually having to be standing there watching it."
Weather stations, he added, generally do not close until area residents are assured their coverage will not suffer.
The government has been tracking the weather in Williston since 1893. The office was moved to a one-story brick building near the fenced edge of the city's airstrip in 1981.
The station in Erie, Pa., is the only other that has survived as long as Williston, McCarthy said. Another station, in Evansville, Ind., is little more than an empty office and a public relations employee.
Those who want to keep Williston operating say its location far enough from surrounding radar sites may help identify low-elevation storms.
However, Jim Fors in Bismarck, the service's head meteorologist for western and central North Dakota, said most thunderstorms are high enough to be seen by other stations, and the weather service has satellites and other tools to help it detect snowstorms.
Weather service officials are working on a plan to expand the capacity of a nearby Federal Aviation Administration radar, which they believe will make up for the lost signal if Williston closes.