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Originally published: 2013-03-25 10:01:05
Last modified: 2013-03-26 10:35:21

Volunteer weather observers wanted

by Staff Reports

Do you ever wonder how much rainfall you received from a recent thunderstorm? How about snowfall during a winter storm? If so, a new volunteer weather-observing program needs your help.

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network, or CoCoRaHS, is looking for new volunteers across North Carolina. 

The grassroots effort is part of a growing national network of home-based and amateur rain spotters with a goal of providing a high density precipitation network that will supplement existing observations.

"We are in need of new observers across the entire state, and we would like to emphasize rural locations," said David Glenn, CoCoRaHS state coordinator and meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City. 

CoCoRaHS came about as a result of a devastating flash flood that hit Fort Collins, Colo., in July 1997. A local severe thunderstorm dumped more than a foot of rain in several hours, while other portions of the city had only modest rainfall. The ensuing flood caught many by surprise and caused $200 million in damages. 

CoCoRaHS was born in 1998 with the intent of doing a better job of mapping and reporting intense storms. As more volunteers participated, rain, hail and snow maps were produced for every storm showing local patterns that were of great interest to scientists and the public. 

Drought reporting has also become an important observation within the CoCoRaHS program across the nation. In fact, drought observations from CoCoRaHS are now being included in the National Integrated Drought Information System.

North Carolina became the 21st state to establish the CoCoRaHS program in 2007, and by 2010, the CoCoRaHS network had reached all 50 states with 8,000 to 10,000 observations being reported each day. 

Through CoCoRaHS, thousands of volunteers, young and old, document the size, intensity, duration and patterns of rain, hail and snow by taking simple measurements in their own backyards.

Volunteers may obtain an official rain gauge through the CoCoRaHS website ( http://www.cocorahs.org) for about $27 plus shipping. 

Besides the need for an official four-inch plastic rain gauge, volunteers are required to take a simple training module online and use the CoCoRaHS website to submit their reports. 

Observations are immediately available on maps and reports for the public to view. The process takes five minutes a day, but the impact to the community is tenfold: By providing high quality, accurate measurements, the observers are able to supplement existing networks and provide useful results to scientists, resource managers, decision makers and other users, he said.

"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 said.

To become a CoCoRaHS observer, visit the CoCoRaHS website above and click on the "Join CoCoRaHS" emblem on the upper right side of the main website. After registering, take the simple online training, order your four-inch rain gauge and start reporting.

"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."