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Help wanted: Rain spotters

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

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network 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.

The network 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.

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

North Carolina became the 21st state to establish the program in 2007, and by 2010, the network had reached all 50 states with nearly 10,000 observations being reported each day. Through the program, 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 program website (http://www.cocorahs.org ) for about $30 plus shipping. Besides the need for an official 4-inch plastic rain gauge, volunteers are required to take a simple training module online and use the website to submit their reports. Observations are immediately available on maps and reports for the public to view. The process takes only 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.

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

“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 observers that can assist forecasters in issuing and verifying warnings for severe thunderstorms,” says David Glenn, the program’s state co-coordinator and meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City.

How does one become a volunteer weather observer? Go to the program website 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 4-inch rain gauge and start reporting.

“We are in need of new observers across the entire state. We would like to emphasize rural locations, areas of higher terrain, and areas near the coast,” added Glenn.
The North Carolina program can also be reached on Facebook and through Twitter.

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