Monday, December 03, 2007

Weather watchers wanted in east central Illinois

Weather watchers wanted in east central Illinois

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One of the best lines I know about weather is the quote attributed to Mark Twain that says, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody seems to do anything about it.” I mention that here, however, in order to introduce an effort by weather researchers who are working to make it untrue. Sort of.

With support from the National Science Foundation and a long list of other sponsors, these researchers are developing a nationwide network of backyard weather observers who will work together to measure and map precipitation in their communities.

The official name of the project is the “Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow” (CoCoRaHS) network. CoCoRaHS began in Colorado in 1998, prompted by a strange storm that dumped more than a foot of rain in some parts of Fort Collins, while other parts of the city experienced much more moderate rainfall. The flash flood that resulted from this storm killed 5 people and caused more than $200 million in damage. Somewhere down the line it is hoped that the greater understanding of storms enabled by the CoCoRaHS network will help forecasters foresee the potential for such disasters.

The CoCoRaHS network is growing rapidly at this point; currently there are more than 7,000 observers participating in 26 states.[Right: CoCoRaHS observers measure and report precipitation daily. Photo by Steve Hilberg.]

In our area CoCoRaHS is being coordinated by the Illinois State Water Survey and the National Weather Service, in cooperation with University of Illinois Extension. Researchers at the Illinois State Water Survey have already used data generated by the network to more accurately describe rainfall patterns from storms in Illinois.

CoCoRaHS observers participate in an initial training session where they learn how to install their rain gauges and take readings using standard procedures. After initial training, observers commit to spending a few minutes each day measuring precipitation in their own back yards and reporting their findings to the network via the World Wide Web.

The CoCoRaHS network welcomes observers of all ages, and provides a great opportunity for families to work together. It’s ideal for learning some basics about science, such as how to collect data using standard instruments and procedures. But it’s also cool in the hands-on approach it requires; observers go outside every day to read their gauges, which are more accurate than the remote sensors that are so widely available.

People interested in joining the CoCoRaHS network are invited to attend an information and training workshop to be held on Wednesday, December 12th at 7:00 p.m. in the Champaign County Extension auditorium. There is no charge to attend the training session, but pre-registration is required. Call U of I Extension at 217-333-7672 or go to University of Illinois Extension, Champaign County, [] on the web and click the “Rain Spotters” link (near the top right on the page).