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“The only requirements to join are an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions and a desire to learn more about how weather can affect and impact our lives”
“It rained on you but it didn’t rain on me!”
Even on days when many in the region are suffering through a persistent drought or when a powerful storm front is expected to drench the landscape, some residents may be drenched while their neighbors haven’t felt a drop.
That precipitation, no matter how sparse or distant, affects river and creek levels which, in turn, help farmers and ranchers made decisions related to their crops and livestock.
Tracing a pattern of rainfall over a region of the state, even in remote rural areas, helps forecasters make more accurate reports that affect agri-business, traffic and trade, as well as travel plans, outdoor activities, and public events.
While the Texas rule that it may rain on your neighbor but not on you continues to hold true, it is worth recording where, when and how much precipitation fell.
At South Country Pecans in western Frio County, Gary Schmidtke checks his rainfall gauge daily and files a report with a nationwide organization that tracks every drop.
Schmidtke is part of a volunteer network of reporters to the nonprofit Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) organization whose rainfall records are becoming ever more accurate for all regions of the United States as its membership grows. While it is free to join the group and free for the general public to view the organization’s website and read its reports, all volunteers pitch in for a $35 rain gauge when they start providing data.
“I use it every day,” Schmidtke says of the gauge and the website to which he has filed a report. “It helps farmers and ranchers, it helps tell us what the river is going to do, and it helps with forecasting for what may be coming our way.”
Schmidtke’s business depends on proper irrigation. The pecan farmer knows all too well how unpredictable South Texas weather may be and values the information he can obtain from CoCoRaHS.
The organization was founded on June 17, 1998, with a few observers filing reports along the Front Range, the easternmost reaches of the vast Rocky Mountain formation that includes the Continental Divide in Colorado. Interest in accurate rainfall recording increased by leaps and bounds, according to the group, and today CoCoRaHS boasts a volunteer membership of more than 20,000 active observers in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the Bahamas.
Regional coordinators for the organization are calling for more volunteers to step forward and become part of the reporting network.
“The saying that ‘rain doesn’t fall the same on all’ really proves to be true,” network staff noted in a recent press release. “How often have you seen it rain in your neighborhood and a few blocks away not a drop has fallen?”
CoCoRaHS describes itself as a “grassroots effort of citizens measuring precipitation right in their own back yards,” and touts the ease of joining and becoming a valued contributor.
“It takes only five minutes a day and is a fun way to learn about this wonderful natural resource that falls from the sky,” the organization reports. “Your observations continue to give scientists an ever clearer picture of where and how much precipitation falls throughout our communities.”
The call for contributing volunteers to become active observers applies to all ages and all walks of life and is not limited to farmers, ranchers, or residents of outlying areas. Students, professionals, business owners, retirees and city residents are invited to join the organization. CoCoRaHS provides full training in how to use the gauges, how to file reports and how to contribute information that will be shared online.
The organization can be reached at www.cocorahs.org and has a sign-up page, an online shop, and continually updated reports from its volunteers, showing rainfall patterns and weather history from across the country.
“By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and using an interactive website, our aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications,” the organization noted in its press release. “The only requirements to join are an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions and a desire to learn more about how weather can affect and impact our lives.”
CoCoRaHS reports that its information is used by a wide variety of organizations and individuals, including the National Weather Service, local and regional meteorologists, hydrologists, emergency managers, city utilities (water supply, water conservation, storm water), insurance adjusters, the US Department of Agriculture, engineers, mosquito control workers, ranchers and farmers, outdoor and recreation interests, teachers and students.
The organization lists its goals as providing accurate high-quality precipitation data for its many end users on a timely basis; increasing the density of precipitation data available throughout the country by encouraging volunteer weather observing; encouraging citizens to have fun participating in meteorological science and heightening their awareness about weather; and providing enrichment activities in water and weather resources for teachers and the community at large.
CoCoRaHS is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Other organizations have contributed either financially or with supplies and equipment.
“One of the neat things about participating in this network is coming away with the feeling that you have made an important contribution that helps others,” CoCoRaHS notes in its promotional material. “By providing your daily observation, you help to fill in a piece of the weather puzzle that affects many across your area in one way or another. You will also have the chance to make some new friends as you do something important and learn some new things along the way.”
“In some areas, activities are organized for network participants including training sessions, field trips, special speakers, picnics, pot-luck dinners, and photography contests, just to name a few,” CoCoRaHS staff added.
“You do not have to be a volunteer to see the rainfall map,” Schmidtke says. “I recommend that everyone visit the site and look up today’s rainfall reports. You can see several people are already reporting for Frio County. The more reports the better. I really would like to see some people in the eastern part of the county report.”