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Citizen Scientists Needed for Meteorological March Madness

Friday, Mar. 16, 2018


Rain guage

Observers are especially needed in San Juan, Kane, Tooele, Garfield, Grand, Emery, Washington, Salt Lake, Utah, Sanpete, Iron, Rich, Sevier, Summit, Morgan and Beaver counties.


frozen rain guage

Jon Meyer, climatologist and the current state coordinator for CoCoRaHS, is excited to see if Utah can rise to this year's recruiting challenge and win bragging rights for the most growth.


Utahns who measure rain and snow in their backyards as a part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow or “CoCoRaHS” network are among the approximately 22,000 Americans doing important citizen science, and a state-vs-state recruiting competition is underway, aimed at compiling more complete local weather data.

CoCoRaHS was founded in 1998 by the Colorado Climate Center after deadly flash floods from localized extreme rainfall ravaged low-lying areas of Fort Collins, Colorado. Spearheaded locally by the Utah Climate Center at Utah State University, Utah’s participation in CoCoRaHS began in 2008. Jon Meyer, climatologist and the current state coordinator for CoCoRaHS, is excited to see if Utah can rise to this year’s recruiting challenge and win bragging rights for the most growth.

CoCoRaHS was designed to be fast, cheap, and flexible for participants, making it perfect for residents spanning a wide spectrum of interests, capabilities, and situations. After receiving a CoCoRaHS rain gauge as a Christmas gift from his father, Gus Bingham, a 4th grader in Providence, UT, looks forward to checking his backyard weather station every morning. 

“It’s fun to help meteorologists and I’ve learned a lot about weather patterns across the country,” Bingham said. “I like to measure the precipitation, especially when it snows…I like to look and see what the rest of the town is reporting.”

With a diverse set of volunteers, CoCoRaHS operates under the principle: “Any observation is better than no observation.” Robert Gillies, director of the Utah Climate Center and the State Climatologist for Utah said, “We love and appreciate our volunteers who report every day and every storm, but we also recognize that people’s lives are busy and sometimes going out every single morning isn’t always feasible. We want to encourage everyone to try setting up a rain gauge in their backyard and take measurements through a season. It’s surprisingly easy to fit the daily task into your morning routine.” 

Total start-up cost for volunteers is less than $40, meaning CoCoRaHS is able to supplement the sparse government precipitation networks with low-cost tools that provide high-value results.

“Utah’s precipitation is an important source of the West’s water resources, and our understanding of exactly how much water will be at our disposal is really dependent on the density of daily observations made,” Gillies said.

Meyer offered an example of how increasing the number of CoCoRaHS observations is important to the quality of data collected for Utah.

“Imagine trying to capture that perfect Utah sunrise coming up over the Wasatch mountains, but you only have a low-grade cell phone camera from 12 years ago,” Meyer said. “You’ll get the general idea, but with low-resolution, so many details important to that wonderful sunrise image are missing. Without CoCoRaHS observations coming in from around the state, we’re stuck with a crude, low-resolution precipitation picture. We want to fill in the gaps with CoCoRaHS observers so we can get to a high-definition picture.”

Monica Traphagan, a forecaster for the National Weather Service and regional coordinator for Utah’s CoCoRaHS added that Utah’s precipitation can be highly variable and localized, so sometimes the matter of a few city blocks can make all the difference in how much water falls from the sky.

“During extreme events, precipitation reports generated by CoCoRaHS observers are sent directly to the workstations of our forecasters and warning coordinators, and it’s not a stretch to say CoCoRaHS volunteers might saves lives,” Traphagan said.

“The goal we’ve set for ourselves is to add 25 new Utah observers to the network this March, 75 by year’s end, and 100 by this time next year,” Meyer said. “It might not seem like much, but if you consider how more observers will help refine Utah’s precipitation picture, the benefits become huge!” 

Currently, Utah has about 75 active participants, producing about 60 reports every day. Gillies noted that Utah is a big state with lots of isolated areas where few or no measurements of precipitation are regularly taken. Observers are especially needed in San Juan, Kane, Tooele, Garfield, Grand, Emery, Washington, Salt Lake, Utah, Sanpete, Iron, Rich, Sevier, Summit, Morgan and Beaver counties.

Gaps in measurements are a problem and often largest where population density is lowest, meaning areas like agricultural zones where maintaining ample water supplies are the most critical have the least understood precipitation patterns. These data gaps are exactly what the CoCoRaHS March Madness competition is designed to address, and last year saw a record 1,097 new volunteers sign up nationally.

“I’m really excited to see participation grow not only in Utah, but across the whole country, Meyer said. “Of course, anyone not in Utah should probably wait until April, after the competition is complete, before signing up.”Those interested in becoming Utah CoCoRaHS observers can find details and sign up information by going to Utah Climate Center website and following the CoCoRaHS sign-up link on the home page. Questions on signing up, setting up, measuring or reporting can be directed to Jon Meyer at jon.meyer@usu.edu. Contact: Jon Meyer, 435-797-2190, jon.meyer@usu.edu  
 





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