By LOIS KINDLE
Local meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Ruskin and others across Florida are in a “heated” contest with stations in other states to sign up citizen volunteers to measure rainfall amounts.
The competition is being sponsored by Colorado State University to build CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. It’s a grassroots network of volunteer weather observers of all ages who report any kind of precipitation in their local communities. The contest ends March 31, and our guys (and gals) want to take home the bragging rights.
All residents need do is purchase an official rain gauge, which costs $30.50 plus shipping, set it up on a fence or post, and start reporting rain amounts via computer or phone app. Online training is provided at www.cocorahs.org.
“The gauge has a 4-inch opening to prevent inaccurate readings,” said meteorologist Dan Noah. “Automated home weather stations can underestimate rainfall by 15 to 25 percent in heavy rains.”
There are currently 1,800 observers in Florida, Noah said. The goal of the university and the Ruskin weather station is to have one every square mile.
The data that’s reported is mapped, compiled and archived forever at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Grabbed every 24 hours by the National Weather Service, the data supplies computer models that look at rainfall amounts over a period of days to provide more accurate forecasts on how high area rivers will rise and where the water will flow, Noah said. It’s used locally to forecast river and overland flooding.
“More observers equal better forecasts,” Noah said. “Even residents who live inland can help, because whatever amount of rain that falls near their homes eventually ends up in a river.”
There are other uses for the data supplied by citizen volunteers.
It can also be used by the Southwest Florida Water Management District to determine how well the aquifer is recharging, which can affect the amount of our drinking water. It’s also used by climatologists to calculate long-term trends in rainfall or forecast droughts.
“The data comes from tens of thousands of people across the nation,” said meteorologist Andrew McKaughan, one of Noah’s colleagues in Ruskin. “On a dry day, there might be around 6,500 reports and 10,000 to 12,000 when it rains.”
Noah added volunteers don’t have to report every day, although some do. Many choose to report every few days, once a week or during large rain events.
“The gauge can measure up to 11 inches of rain,” he said. “During tropical storms, it could overflow if not emptied. During Tropical Storm Hermine (last September), 15.27 inches of rain fell in 72 hours in Largo.
Folks who sign up can get a free app for their IOS or Android smartphones.
“This a good project for scouts earning their weather badges or science students in middle school,” Noah said. “And even if you’re a snowbird, you can participate in both places you live.
“It’s an interesting project and a fun way to learn how much rain we get,” McKaughan added. “It’s useful to farmers, gardeners, or anyone interested in weather.”
Even though the contest ends March 31, residents can sign up after. But why not do so now to help our state meteorologists who are running neck and neck with their counterparts in North Carolina and Minnesota? You don’t have to wait until your rain gauge arrives.
To become a volunteer observer for CoCoRaHS or to learn more, visit www.cocorahs.org. To order your high-capacity rain gauge, visit www.weatheryourway.com/cocorahs.