Weather observers needed
By KRISTIN DANLEY-GREINER
The state is looking for volunteer weather watchers who are willing to measure precipitation and report it regularly to provide much-needed help to meteorologists and others to help track drought conditions.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s State Climatology Office and the National Weather Service are recruiting volunteer precipitation observers across Iowa to participate in the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network, better known informally as “CoCoRaHS.”
The network was established by the Colorado Climate Center in 1998. Iowa joined this volunteer network in 2007 and currently has more than 300 registered CoCoRaHS observers across the state.
However, more observers are needed to better document the amount and variability of rain and snow across Iowa, said Harry Hillaker, state climatologist.
All that a volunteer needs in order to participate is an interest in the weather, a 4-inch diameter rain gauge placed in a suitable location and access to the internet.
Weather observers are needed across the state, but the most critical needs are in Worth, Wright, Allamakee, Bremer, Greene, Shelby, Cedar, Adair, Adams, Decatur, Monroe, Keokuk and Louisa counties.
“In 2017, Iowa recorded its driest year since the drought of 2012,” Hillaker said. “Severe drought gripped much of south-central and southeast Iowa for the second consecutive year where rainfall has been as much as 25 inches less than normal over the past 24 months.”
At the same time, he said above normal rain amounts were restricted to relatively small areas in northeast and west-central Iowa.
“The past few weeks have seen frequent precipitation with snowfall exceeding 2 feet at Fort Dodge during February,” Hillaker said. “Whatever comes our way in 2018, the weather observations obtained by this network can be of great benefit in obtaining a clearer picture of Iowa’s weather.”
Volunteers have submitted more than 400,000 daily reports in the past 10 years, Hillaker said. Just last year, volunteers turned in 46,000 forms.
“This information is quite important. The National Weather Service uses it for river forecasting based upon rainfall, for example,” he said. “One of the best features of the monitoring report allows observers to submit a summary of not just the data, but what they’re seeing, from the impact to farm ponds such as ‘it’s the lowest it’s been in a certain number of years and we’re having to supplement feed cattle,’ to any unusual weather events.”
The system also allows users to report odd weather events, which is funneled to the nearest weather office.
“If there’s a hail storm or a giant storm, that information can be submitted immediately and it goes to the local weather service,” Hillaker said. “That way a warning can be issued or storm damage can be assessed.”
The reason why this system was established at Fort Collins, Colorado, was in response to a major flash food that caused numerous fatalities and significant damage.
Hillaker said no rainfall reports had been submitted and no radar coverage revealed any looming threats, so everyone was caught off guard when it struck.
“If there had been data collected, the damage and fatalities perhaps could have been avoided,” Hillaker said. “It’s also a novel way to use the internet. It’s very successful and is in all 50 states, as well as Canada, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.”
Don Evers has volunteered with CoCoRaHS since Aug. 7, 2007. He lives near Badger in Webster County. While one-third of the participants do not report during the wintertime, Evers does.
“I heard about it on public radio and I decided since I always liked meteorology and I always checked my rain gauge, I thought I’d participate,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve missed a day since, although it can be a little slippery in the wintertime getting out there. It’s really interesting when you put in the report and see the whole map of Iowa when everyone has reported.”
When a nasty storm rolled through his area, Evers reported directly to the site about the significant rain he received. As soon as he did that, the National Weather Service contacted him directly to inquire about just how much rain he did receive, because they were worried about the river’s water levels.
“We’re right next to the Des Moines River and they were worried about flooding down river from me,” he said.
Evers assured potential volunteers that the entire process takes maybe five minutes out of his day at the most.
“Ideally, you read the gauge and enter the information right away,” he said. “But sometimes if that’s not possible, I’ll just record it on my phone and then submit it when I have time. The hardest part is in the wintertime if there’s freezing rain or snow in the gauge. I just melt the ice and snow to get an accurate reading.”
For more information or to sign up to volunteer, visit www.cocorahs.org. There is no cost in participating other than to purchase the 4-inch diameter rain gauge.
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