Clear Weather

Grassroots organization of weather lovers needs volunteers

If you love weather so much that you stand by the water cooler the morning after a storm and discuss how much rain must have fallen at your house, you might be interested in this ongoing opportunity. Five minutes a day is all it takes to participate in a citizen science program that makes an impact in the field of meteorology. No degree is necessary!

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow network, called CoCoRaHS, is in the midst of their annual call for volunteers. You can join at any time, but in March, the national grassroots organization challenges themselves to recruit more members. Participation only requires signing up on their website, ordering an official rain gauge, doing a simple training module online, and five minutes a day to make a report.

In July 1997, Fort Collins, Colorado, experienced an event for the record books. $200 million dollars worth of damages was caused by flooding when a severe thunderstorm dropped nearly a foot of rain in several hours over one part of the city. At the same time, other parts of the city experienced only moderate rainfall. The need for better recording and mapping of rainfall events was realized, and in 1998, CoCoRaHS was created.

By 2010, all 50 states had participants with nearly ten thousand observations being reported each day. All participants are volunteers with an interest in weather. Observers of all ages document the size, intensity, duration, and patterns of rain, hail, and snow in their own backyards. While observations should be made daily, there is no rule that they must be made daily. Taking the occasional vacation or otherwise necessary break is understandable and excused. However, the idea is to have as accurate reporting, even on zero precipitation days, as often as possible.

I had the pleasure of training a class of Skywarn spotters as part of the Weather-Ready Nation initiative on Friday (more on Skywarn later this week), and one of the questions I received at the end of the hour was whether the reports were recorded permanently, and how much of a difference they made. While local storm reports are of immense importance, CoCoRaHS is what came to my mind as being a way that anyone can volunteer to help scientists understand storms and drought over the long term.

Dr. Ryan Boyles, state climatologist and director of the State Climate Office, was nice enough to speak to the group about the importance of the CoCoRaHS program and the need for volunteers. He pointed out that volunteers within just a mile of each other could see a marked difference in the amount of precipitation that falls out of the same storm. The more observers we have reporting on storms, the better our mapping of the events and the more understanding we have after studying them.

David Glenn, CoCoRaHS State Co-coordinator and meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City, said in a recent interview, "An additional benefit of the program to the National Weather Service is the ability to receive timely reports of significant weather (hail, intense rainfall, localized flooding) from CoCoRaHS observers that can assist forecasters in issuing and verifying warnings for severe thunderstorms." Glenn added that they are in need of volunteers across all of North Carolina and would like to emphasize rural areas, higher terrain, and coastal locations.

If you are interested in participating, visit the CoCoRaHS website for more information. North Carolina CoCoRaHS is also on facebook and twitter.