Grab your rain gauge, join linked weathernet
If you've ever complained that weathermen are paid to be wrong, now's your chance to help them be right. On July 1, New Hampshire launched its leg of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, a nationwide effort to gather weather and precipitation data through local volunteerism. People across the country are invited to impact meteorological science and aid the National Weather Service by gathering high-quality precipitation information from their own backyards. "This program will give us a great understanding of local precipitation patterns and allow us to see better into forecasting and warning procedures in different regional areas," said David Glenn, New Hampshire state coordinator for CoCoRAHS. The program hopes to locate one precipitation watcher per square mile in urban areas - which means Nashua could use 32 watchers - and one per 25 square miles in rural areas. "I don't think it will be very hard because people in New Hampshire follow their weather very closely," said Glenn, a North Carolina native who recently moved to New England. "As a southerner coming up here, in less than a year I've noticed folks pay attention to weather more closely." CoCoRaHS is not the first opportunity for amateur precipitation reporters. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, building on centuries of citizen weather watchers, has covered the U.S. with its citizen Cooperative Weather Observers since 1953. That program designates where observers should be and provides specialized equipment for them to use. CoCoRaHS' twist invites anybody in participating states to sign up and record precipitation levels. Nationally, CoCoRaHS has accumulated 14,000 participants since its 1998 launch. The program formed as Colorado State University's solution to a devastating flash flood in Fort Collins, Colo., that was unreported and unwarned by Colorado's station networks. New Hampshire, the 46th state to join CoCoRaHS, has already demonstrated an active assembly of watchers: 109 New Hampshirites signed up as of Tuesday. In the southwestern region alone, 13 Hillsborough residents have agreed to monitor their precipitation, and four more are participating in Cheshire. But there is still plenty of mileage to cover. "We'll take as many that would like to volunteer," Glenn said. "We are trying to get as dense of a network as possible," Glenn explained. "One of my goals a couple months from now is to seek out locations where there are holes or pockets, and get people from that specific location to join in," he said. The time commitment is small, and the impact is great. Participants are encouraged to follow their precipitation for at least a season, but they don't have to check the gauge daily - they can still go on vacation. There are online forms for multi-day accumulation reports. The ideal time to check gauges for CoCoRAHS is 7 a.m., but as long as watchers report precipitation levels between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., Glenn said the data will make it on a CoCoRaHS map and into certain local climate observation products from the Weather Service. Throughout the rest of the day though, CoCoRAHS continues to collect reports. In the warmer seasons, precipitation checks should only take about five minutes. It is New Hampshire's winter blizzards that will test dedication. Participants may spend about 15 minutes with liquid equivalent assessments, total snow depth and additional snow observations. "People will probably gain a little more by going to face-to-face training sessions to get more about winter precipitation," Glenn said. The sessions are only about an hour long, and CoCoRAHS offers a series of sessions around the state starting Aug. 18 at Plymouth State University's Boyd Science Center. But attendance is not required. Whoever signs up to report backyard precipitation will be vital to weather stations. CoCoRAHS offers a variety of intermediate report forms for heavy precipitation fall from daily thunderstorm and hailstorms. Network stations want over-reporting, not under-reporting, Glenn said. "We'll get a weather alert at the Weather Service with heavy hail or precipitation," he said. "If you report 3/4 inches of hail and send it online, we get an alarm so we know exactly where we're seeing this heavy precipitation. It helps out a lot." For just the cost of a rain gauge and a few minutes a day, Granite Staters will provide critical data to their local, state and national weather networks. "People have been very excited about this, they feel part of a big team," Glenn said. "We hope they realize they all count, their individual measurements mean something to the overall program."