State News

Volunteer collects and maps precipitation

Posted September 4

— A famous American writer once said, "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."

Well, Snow Hill resident Pat Adams does something about it. She is a volunteer with the online Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network or CoCoRaHS.

The collaborative is a unique, nonprofit, community-based network of volunteers in all 50 states who measure and map precipitation. Since precipitation, especially rain, varies greatly from one location and time to another, and permanent observation facilities are too far apart, the information volunteers submit online offers a more complete and accurate record, Adams said.

The data is organized to be a valuable resource for education, research, natural resource management and severe storm warnings.

The National Weather Service and other meteorologists use the collaborative's site. So do emergency managers, city utilities, insurance adjusters, United States Department of Agriculture, engineers, mosquito control experts, farmers, teachers, outdoor sportsmen and just about anyone who has an interest in precipitation.

In addition to providing an increased amount of accurate, timely data, the collaborative hopes to encourage participants to have fun with meteorological science and gain a heightened awareness of weather. The site also provides enrichment activities in water and weather resources for teachers, educators and the community in general.

"I've always been interested in stuff like this. Growing up on a farm, my dad was always checking on the rain and its effect on the crops. I saw him doing it, and I enjoy doing it now. It's interesting," Adams said.

The collaborative got started in 1998 at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University as a result of a devastating flash flood in July 1997.

A very localized storm dumped more than a foot of rain in a few hours, while other areas had only a small amount of rain. The resulting flood caught many by surprise, caused $200 million in damages and killed five people.

The network was formed the following year with the intent of doing a better job of mapping and reporting intense storms. By 2010, it became a nationwide chain of volunteers and is now international with observers providing data in many countries around the world.

Volunteers can be any age and it can be a practical and fun activity for the whole family. All that is required in an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions and a desire to learn more about how weather affects and impacts lives.

Adams got involved two years ago after seeing the network featured on a local television weather broadcast.

"You can go as deep into as you want," she said.

For Adams, that means checking rain gauges she's placed on the railing surrounding her backyard deck every day at 8 a.m.

"You can pick any time that is convenient to you within the last 24 hours," she said. "It's been real easy lately because we haven't had any rain."

The data is mapped, and Adams said it is interesting to see what is posted by people in other areas.

Each volunteer's location is shown on the map as a small circle, which is color-coded based on the amount of precipitation reported. Users can click on any dot and see months of precipitation readings reported from that specific location.

"There are quite a number of (volunteers) in Pitt County, one or two in Wilson, and one or two in Goldsboro. On the coast there are more," she said. "I wish more in the rural areas would do it. It helps the farmers. I don't know many farmers you walk up to who can't tell you how much rain they had in the last month. They keep up with it. They have to — it's their livelihood."

Adams is now keenly aware when Greene County is going to experience flooding by watching the reports of the collaborative's spotters in the Raleigh area.

For example, during the heavy rain event in April that resulted in disastrous flooding in Greene and surrounding counties, she recorded 4.10 inches of rain on the 25th at her house on Newell Road in Snow Hill.

During Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, Adams reported 10.10 inches of rain within 24 hours of Oct. 9 and 12 inches within a 48-hour period.

"I knew we were going to be flooded in Snow Hill. Looking at the map, I saw those in Raleigh reporting five to six inches of rain. I knew it's got to go somewhere and flows right into Contentnea Creek. Plus, we got rain here. I just knew we were getting ready to be slammed. But a lot of people didn't know," she said.

The way it works is, every time a rain, hail or snow storm crosses the area, volunteers take measurements of precipitation from as many locations as possible using inexpensive gauges of their own.

"I've got three different ones that I use. I do a cross sample to make sure I'm getting an accurate reading," Adams said, adding that the size of the gauge, wind and evaporation could affect the reading.

When snow is in the weather forecast, she positions traditional rulers at two locations to measure the depth.

There is a specific procedure to measure the size, weight, direction and velocity of hail, using polystyrene foam and aluminum foil. The foam board is shipped to the collaborative, where it is measured.

"I haven't done that because you have to put it out while it's hailing, which it typically during a bad storm. I want to stay inside where it's safe," Adams said.

Volunteers also are encouraged to post photos of the trees, plants and flowers at their location.

"It adds to the community feel. They always want to get as much information as they can, to show," she said. "I know the weather service has methods and they can look at clouds and tell, but feet on the ground make a big difference."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation primarily sponsor the network. Other organizations also contribute either financially or with supplies and equipment.

The site provides the training needed to install gauges, measure properly and upload data. Members enjoy newsletters and webinars, featuring experts and weather related topics.

Some rain reporters organize training sessions, field trips, special speakers, photo contests and other activities of common interest.

Becoming a CoCoRaHS volunteer is simple, and participating is not complicated or time consuming, Adams said, adding that it would be a fun and educational activity for schools and 4H clubs.

"It is really fascinating to see what is happening in other places," Adams said. "We need more people in our area. It helps more people, especially if we have a weather event coming."

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