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March 27, 2009

Recording rainfall

Local volunteers involved in national precipitation observation network

While many of us moan at the wet weather, it’s different for Mike Gardner.

It’s his passion.

Come rain or shine, every morning at 6 a.m., the Kokomo man dutifully measures precipitation in a rain gauge set up in his backyard. During the winter, he also measures snowfall.

Gardner’s hobby, though, is more important than it appears.

He is the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS, coordinator for Cass, Howard, Fulton, Pulaski and White counties. CoCoRaHS is a grassroots network of volunteer weather recorders who are the National Weather Service’s eyes and ears on the ground.

Gardner, like the thousands of other volunteers in 39 states, enters his measurements on the CoCoRaHS Web site before the daily 8 a.m. deadline.

Weather observers at CoCoRaHS headquarters in Fort Collins, Colo., then assimilate the data on national precipitation maps used by the weather service, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and state hydrologists.

“The data is used to show rainfall but also to predict floods in cases where there have been large amounts of rain,” Gardner said. “It is kind of a hobby, but at the same time it’s a service for different organizations.”

In Indiana, CoCoRaHS is a collaboration between state climate office, the agronomy department at Purdue University and National Weather Service in Indianapolis. The state joined the program in 2005.

Sam Lashley, a NOAA and a CoCoRaHS coordinator for North Central Indiana, said the network was initiated in Colorado in 1998 following a severe flood in which several people died.

“They found that there were not enough recorders to measure rainfall who may have warned meteorologists about rising water levels,” Lashley said. “So they started to get people involved by giving them rain gauges. It has now spread to 39 states in the U.S.”

During flooding earlier this month, data from CoCoRaHS volunteers proved invaluable in assisting the weather service to predict the extent of the flooding.

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