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Statewide volunteer network collects data on daily precipitation

Measurements allow a better assessment of droughts.
Monday, May 29, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:26 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rachel Redburn has long been interested in weather phenomena and has spent plenty of time watching The Weather Channel.

“I’ve always known I wanted to pursue a career in meteorology,” Redburn said. Now, the MU graduate student has found another way to explore her passion.

In March, she was among the first members to volunteer to join the Missouri branch of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. The statewide program, which is seeking volunteers, has given her a chance to make daily precipitation observations and log her findings on the Internet.

“It doesn’t really take too much time,” Redburn said, “I just check it every morning. It’s part of my routine now.”

The network, which was founded to collect information about rainfall, relies on volunteers. The purpose is to get as many entries from as many parts of the state as possible.

“With any kind of precipitation information, the more you have the better,” said Tony Lupo, an MU associate professor of atmospheric science and one of the Missouri coordinators for the network.

The information is used to alert the National Weather Service in the event of intense rainfall. It also can be used as a more accurate measure of drought conditions. Drought conditions are determined using only one or two rainfall measurements throughout entire counties.

“To use one measurement to say that one county is pretty bad off isn’t accurate,” Lupo said.

The measurements by volunteers throughout a county would allow for a better and more area-specific assessment of drought conditions. The data can also help hydrologists prepare river forecasts.

The network has 164 volunteers and has distributed the 18 complimentary rain gauges in its budget. The gauge itself, which meets weather service standards, can cost $20 to $30.

Pat Guinan, an MU climatologist and Missouri coordinator of the network, said his group is seeking sponsors to help provide additional complimentary gauges.

“We’ve had some TV stations show some interest, but we haven’t been able to seal the deal,” Lupo said.

The data will be available to the weather service, Guinan said, “Precipitation can be highly variable over short distances,” he said. “The more representation you have, the better idea you have of how much fell, and that is useful for the National Weather Service.”

The weather service, which has volunteers of its own called spotters, can use the data to fill in “where we have holes,” said Jim Kramper, warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service in St. Louis. The spotters, unlike volunteers with the emerging network, “are used for reporting real-time weather events,” Kramper said.

Volunteers with the new network alert the weather service only in times of intense rainfall. “If you get one inch of rain in 20 minutes and think it’s going to flood, you can enter that into the Web site, and that is automatically sent to the weather service,” Guinan said.

There’s no reason why weather service spotters can’t also contribute to the new network. “My guess is that we’re picking up kind of both, and that’s good,” Lupo said.


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