CoCoRaHS: Measuring Rain, Hail & Snow

I’ve always been fascinated by the weather. When I was still in grade school, my parents got me a weather station setup one year for my birthday. It was pretty cool for its time, with an anemometer to measure wind speed, an indoor-outdoor thermometer, and a wet/dry thermometer to measure relative humidity. I still remember wetting the little ‘sock’ that went on the wet/dry thermometer (also known as a sling psychrometer) and whirling the thing around.

These days, weather stations have gone high tech, with wireless transmitters to send data from the outside sensors to the inside weather station, and uplinks to the Internet. Fellow blogger Daphne got a nice one for her birthday a couple of years ago. She has it setup to upload her data to Weather Underground, and has a widget on her blog sidebar to display current weather conditions. I’ve been tempted to get one for myself, but so far have resisted the urge to add another gadget to my collection. Of course if someone gave it to me, that would be quite another thing entirely!

I have been involved with a weather project myself for the last two years, but it’s decidely more low-tech. I have been a volunteer weather observer for the CocoRaHS organization. CoCoRaHS is an acronym for Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network. According to the NOAA website, “CoCoRaHS is a non-profit community based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure precipitation. The network originated at Colorado State University in 1988 and has expanded to thousands of observers in over half of the United States.”

Data is currently being collected from over 15,000 active U.S. weather stations like mine. The data is used by weather researchers, meteorologists, water utilities, farmers, teachers and students, and backyard gardeners like myself. Volunteers measure the amount of rain, snow and hail that falls in their location, and record the results daily. The data is captured online, and CoCoRaHS collects, summarizes, and makes the data available to all who want to use it. I often check out the daily precipitation map for our county, which gives me a quick look at how much rain my neighbors and I are getting. I have to admit I am amazed to see the wide variation of rain that falls on an area even as small as a few square miles. Of course what usually matters most to me is how much has fallen in my own backyard, and now I know that to the nearest hundredth of an inch.

high-capacity rain gauge

The only special equipment involved is a high-capacity 4″ diameter rain gauge, which costs about $30. The rain gauge needs to be mounted somewhere in the open, usually on a wooden post. Mine is currently mounted on the side of a wooden barrel planter, but when my garden fencing project is complete next month I plan on mounting it on one of the wooden corner posts. Measuring snowfall and hail is a little more completed, but the CoCoRaHS website has complete instructions available, even slideshows and videos for training. We normally get very little snow here, though we are overdue for a big snow event.

If you’re interested in the amount of rain (or snow and hail) your area receives, you might check out the CoCoRaHS website. The main page features a clickable U.S. map where you can drill down to your state and county and get precipitation information in a variety of formats. If you don’t find any weather stations close to your area, you might consider volunteering yourself. It only takes a few minutes of active time each day. And if you already regularly check a rain gauge in your backyard, you might as well get an ‘official’ one and join the CoCoRaHS team like I did!

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4 Responses to CoCoRaHS: Measuring Rain, Hail & Snow

  1. Daphne says:

    We get some really wide differences in precipitation here. Sometimes I watch the radar and pray that it hits (or doesn’t depending on the year). Some places within a mile of me can get two inches when I get just a trace. Or visa versa. And I do love my weather station. It will be nice when I have more years to see what is “normal” here. We seem to have a pretty warm little micro climate in my garden. Though don’t look at the wind data. It doesn’t seem to want to go over 10 mph. So when we had our microburst I had friends trying to use it to see how strong the wind was. Didn’t work of course.

  2. Jody says:

    Dude you rock! Sorry for the pop metaphor, but it makes the point. We have, should I say, had a remote weather vein. It measured wind speed, temp, barometric pressure and even predicted the coming weather, but it was broken. For the year we had it, I loved it. I’m going to ask for a replacement for Christmas.

  3. Wilderness says:

    I need to check that site out. I keep daily records of weather and have for several years now since I went back to gardening. I have a cheap rain gauge but it works for me. Have 2 thermometers to compare for temperature and a good yardstick for the snow. Not real fancy but it works for me.

  4. I didn’t know about CoCoRaHS. How fun! I’ll have to see what data they have locally. I love our weather station though. I got a nice one for Mr. CV a couple of years ago, and honestly, I don’t think we could live without it now. We’re hoping to tie in the soil moisture sensors over this winter, finally, so our weather station can help to control when and how much we irrigate in the gardens and the orchard. I can’t help it, I’m a bit of a gadget geek 😛

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