No matter how many times we repeat this, the question just keeps coming up “who cares about and who uses the observations from CoCoRaHS volunteers?” It must be hard to fathom that precipitation data is so useful and that backyard rain gauges have a place of importance in national and global climate monitoring in the 21st Century. But the fact is, it’s true. Your rainfall reports — including your reports of zero precipitation – are very valuable and are being used EVERY DAY. Every morning many organizations pull data from the CoCoRaHS database at least every hour to get all the latest reports as they come in. They wish all CoCoRaHS observers submitted their reports right away.
When you see forecasts of river stages and flood levels on the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Colorado River or most anywhere else in the country — guess what data are helping the forecasters make these forecasts? Yes, timely CoCoRaHS data!
Your reports of hail or heavy rain may trigger the NWS to issue severe thunderstorm or flash flood warnings. In cases of extreme localized storms, your local report could help save lives.
Don’t let all this “importance” frighten you. The weight is not all on observers shoulders. The real value comes from having thousands of volunteers reporting from all over. So keep up the good work, and go out and find more weather enthusiasts to help measure, map and track the amazingly variable patterns of precipitation.
A key reason that CoCoRaHS data are so useful is because the rain gauge used by CoCoRaHS volunteers – the 4-inch diameter, 11.30” capacity clear plastic rain gauge is very good. Under most circumstances, this type of gauge performs as well as the official National Weather Service Standard Rain Gauge that has been used for over 120 years documenting our nation’s climate. Most CoCoRaHS volunteers have found representative locations to mount their gauge to get very high quality readings. The CoCoRaHS gauge, if installed and used properly, provides very accurate readings. CoCoRaHS volunteers tend to be very interested and very committed to careful and high-quality observations. As a result, the data are usually excellent for a wide range of uses.
Below are just a few of our many users, there are probably many others. The most obvious ones that come to mind are:
1. Weather Forecasters
3. Water management
7. Insurance Industry
10. Many others
Thanks for being a CoCoRaHS observer and rest assured that your observation efforts are producing much fruit.
1. Weather Forecasters (Private, Media and Government)
Weather forecasters look at our rain, hail and snow reports to help their weather prediction and verification. Believe it or not, weather forecasters like to know how their forecasts work out. CoCoRaHS precipitation data allow them to see with great detail where it rained or snowed, where it didn’t and how much. Here in Colorado where CoCoRaHS started in 1998, forecasters have learned from CoCoRaHS reports that there are some areas that often get more (less) precipitation than others under certain weather conditions. They have been able to refine their forecasts thanks to these improved detailed local observations. NOAA’s National Weather Service Forecast Offices instantaneously receive our “Significant Weather” and “Hail reports” to aid in severe weather prediction, warning and verification. This is why CoCoRaHS strongly encourages volunteers to make use of the “Significant Weather” and the “Hail” report forms whenever severe weather is occurring.
Some regular hydrologic users are:
– NOAA’s National Weather Service River Forecast Centers are using CoCoRaHS data every day in predicting river levels and potential flooding all across the country. A critical input to river stage and flow prediction models is “Mean Areal Precipitation” — the precipitation averaged across a watershed. The more rain gauge reports we get, the more accurately NWS RFCs can asses “Mean Areal Precipitation” and that equates to better forecasts.
– NOAA’s National Operational Hydrological Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC) accesses CoCoRaHS snow reports all winter to help in the assessment of snow cover and snow water content across the U.S. and southern Canada. . They particularly appreciate the observers who make the extra effort to report the depth of snow (both old plus new snow on the ground) and the total water content of snow on the ground (snow water equivalent – SWE) in the winter and spring. That is really important stuff.
3. Water management
Precipitation affects agriculture in so many ways. Farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses and commodities investors all follow weather prediction and national/international rainfall patterns. A few examples include monitoring crop development, crop yield prediction and assessment, diseases, insects, and soil moisture assessments. How much it does and doesn’t rain affects commodities prices and also affects investment and marketing strategies. Many who are not involved in agriculture may not realize just how much the prices paid to farmers for many commodities vary daily based on observed and predicted weather conditions both here and abroad. Colorado State University’s wheat breeding program uses CoCoRaHS observations to better understand the climate situation of the state and thus develop better wheat varieties for Colorado.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking at CoCoRaHS data regularly to assess crop development, potential drought stress and possible crop damage and erosion from flooding or from drought.
The U.S. Drought Monitor uses CoCoRaHS data in helping to chart drought throughout the country. Observers reports (especially those zeros) provide an important tool for determining where drought is lurking and to what degree it is effecting the agricultural interests in specific counties.
7. Insurance Industry
Insurance claims adjusters have learned about CoCoRaHS as a way to verify if storms were present on days when damage claims were filed. Use of CoCoRaHS data to helps to prevent fraudulent claims. CoCoRaHS reports can play a role in hail damage, flood damage, crop losses, traffic accidents, lightning strikes, structural snow load accidents, ice related injuries and other precipitation related claims. Knowing what fell from the sky, in what area, on a certain date is important information for this industry.
10. Many others
There are many others who use CoCoRaHS data on a daily basis. Below we have listed a few. Perhaps you can think of more. With each passing year, more organizations are learning about CoCoRaHS data. This list will keep growing.
Here are some specific examples:
— Weather radar correction and calibration: Radar has been used since World War II to track storms. It is a very valuable tool for tracking storm location, movement and intensity. More recently it has been used to quantitatively estimate the rainfall reaching the ground. It is possible to estimate precipitation amounts from radar, but actual rain gauge observations are critical to this process. CoCoRaHS reports that arrive promptly each morning and our “Intense Precipitation Reports” are used routinely to help correct and adjust radar precipitation estimates by research scientists, National Weather Service forecasters and private meteorological businesses.
— NASA has used our hail data in assessing the risk of hail at Kennedy Space Center. NASA and NOAA scientists and educators have been using CoCoRaHS data to help validate satellite estimates of rainfall, soil moisture and evapotranspiration.
— NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). CoCoRaHS data have proven to be reliable and of comparable quality to the National Weather Service precipitation data sources. Therefore, NCEI began including CoCoRaHS daily precipitation data in the Global Historical Climate Network archived data set and can now be accessed through this federal repository for global climate data.
— Fisheries use CoCoRHS observations (Maine Coastal Waters for example) to determine when there has been large amounts of runoff draining into bays, etc. This helps them to decide when to close the waters to shellfish harvesting.
— The media (newspapers, TV stations, internet news services) in many parts of the country use CoCoRaHS data to provide more detail on local storm patterns.
— Many local utilities look at CoCoRaHS data to help gauge inputs to their water supply and also project water demand. Snow reports from CoCoRaHS volunteers are of great value since there are very few sources for high quality snowfall, depth and water content measurements from trained observers.
— Legal applications. Weather is often a contributing factor to accidents and a variable that may provide useful crime scene evidence. Increasingly attorneys and law practices are using CoCoRaHS data in forensic investigations.
— Education. CoCoRaHS data are used every school day as data that are ideal for classroom analysis, plotting graphs, and connecting weather to its impacts and consequences.
— Homeowners. One CoCoRaHS observer tells us “I use CoCoRaHS date to turn off and off my home irrigation system. I also share data with a friend a mile away to compare.”