The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

April 12, 2013

Weather observer volunteers needed


TARBORO — A citizen science program is in need of volunteer weather observers across North Carolina. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow network, CoCoRaHS, is a national network of weather observers that help forecasters and climatologists by taking measurements in their own backyards.

“We are in need of new observers across the entire state and we would like to emphasize rural locations,” says David Glenn, CoCoRaHS State Coordinator and meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City.

“Nothing is better than getting a report from somebody that actually has a rain gauge,” says Robert Frederick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City. That’s especially true in rural areas that don’t have automated weather reporting stations, such as Edgecombe County. The county currently has seven CoCoRaHS observers, and the majority of those live within a few miles of Tarboro.

“We rely on those volunteer observers to give us reports,” said Frederick. “Having a ground truth report, we can go back and compare that to what the radar is showing.”

Glenn said the CoCoRaHS observers can also assist forecasters in issuing and verifying warnings for severe thunderstorms and to receive “timely reports of significant weather (hail, intense rainfall, localized flooding).”

A devastating flash flood that hit Fort Collins, Co. in July 1997 was the impetus for the founding of CoCoRaHS, and North Carolina became the 21st state to implement the CoCoRaHS program, in 2007. While the program wasn’t in place during Hurricane Floyd, which caused devastating flooding in Princeville in September 1999, CoCoRaHS observers’ reports were indispensable during Hurricane Irene, which unleashed its fury in late August 2011.

“The two or three highest precipitation reports we got were from CoCoRaHS observers,” said Frederick.

Data gathered from CoCoRaHS observers is also important in “better understanding local weather and climate patterns,” according to Ryan Boyles, state climatologist and director of the State Climate Office, based at North Carolina State University.

“North Carolina has one of the most complex climates in the U.S.,” said Boyles.

A wide variance in temperature from day to day, for instance, is the norm for springtime in North Carolina. Last week felt like winter, with temperatures in the 40’s, while temperatures reached the mid 80’s this week. A cold rain that turned into wintry precipitation in nearby locations fell last week, while thunderstorms are in today’s forecast.

To become an observer, go to the CoCoRaHS 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 for about $27 plus shipping and start reporting. Observers use the website to submit their reports and observations are immediately available on maps and reports for the public to view. The process takes only five minutes a day.