Volunteer weather observers sought in North Carolina

A national network of weather observers is looking for local volunteers willing to measure rainfall in their backyards, particularly in rural areas of North Carolina.

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, which goes by the unwieldy acronym CoCoRaHS, uses data collected by volunteers to augment official measurements made by government weather stations.

“North Carolina has one of the most complex climates in the U.S.,” said Ryan Boyles, state climatologist and director of the State Climate Office based at N.C. State University. “Data gathered from CoCoRaHS volunteers are very important in better understanding local weather and climate patterns.”

CoCoRaHS came about as a result of a devastating flash flood that hit Fort Collins, Colo., in July 1997. A severe thunderstorm poured over a foot of rain in one portion of the city while other parts received only modest rainfall. The ensuing flood caught many by surprise and caused $200 million in damages.

The group has grown to become a national network of volunteers dedicated to preventing such unforeseen accidents by increasing the amount of weather data available to organizations such as the National Weather Service and the National Integrated Drought Information System.

Thursday’s storm shows the value of the network. The National Weather Service station at Raleigh-Durham International Airport reported that .72 inches of rain had fallen by Friday morning, while the CoCoRaHS volunteers recorded rainfall amounts ranging from .63 to 1.33 inches across Wake County.

The network has only about 400 to 500 volunteers that consistently record their findings in North Carolina, and mainly in more urban areas where there are already automated weather stations, said David Glenn, a National Weather Service meteorologist who coordinates the CoCoRaHS program in the state. Glenn said volunteers are particularly needed in rural areas, such as Greene County, Tyrrell County, and coastal areas such as Wrightsville Beach.

“If you’re willing to participate, we’d love to have you,” he said.

Volunteers use the rain gauge to measure how much rain, snow or hail has fallen in their yard and submit their observations to the CoCoRaHS website at any time of day or night. Readings submitted between 5 and 9 a.m. become immediately available on maps and reports for the public to view online. Later readings are posted the next day. Volunteers also have the option of doing multi-day accumulation reports if they go out of town.