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W Weatheratchers THE


Rural weather volunteers add value to state and national weather reporting


By Mary Logan Wolf A


ttention weather geeks, storm chasers, rain dancers, and oth- ers with their heads in the clouds: There’s a little known project called the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS)—and they need you. No expe-


rience necessary. Born from fatality-causing flash floods in Colorado in 1997,


CoCoRaHS is essentially a network of 10,000 volunteers across the country who post observations of weather conditions from their own backyards to the organization’s website. “No fancy equipment or training is necessary, just a willingness to contribute and a working internet connection,” says Cindy Morgan Lutrell, statewide coordinator of CoCoRaHS. She’s also manager of network monitoring and data quality for Mesonet, whose broad um- brella of weather data collection includes CoCoRaHS. It is Lutrell’s job to monitor reports contributed by 180 Oklahoma volunteers located in 59 counties. Ideally, volunteers submit their observations daily, but “whatever they are able to do we are happy to take,” she says. While parts of the state are well represented—namely Norman,


Oklahoma City and Tulsa—Lutrell says rural areas need more active, on-the-ground observers to ensure the most accurate data collection possible. Mesonet automated data stations exist in each county, but the stations can be 30 to 50 miles apart, she explains. Weather radar, while extremely valuable, is rarely accurate to the inch. “Observers with old fashioned rain gauges help us fill in these gaps,” Lutrell says. “The National Weather Service, which is a huge user of this network, is able to marry the manual reports with radar and satellite data and fine tune it.”


24 WWW.OKL.COOP


Volunteers submit daily precipitation reports and weekly or monthly condition monitoring reports using forms available on the CoCoRaHS website. Both provide space for comments and general observations of weather effects. Volunteers experiencing toad-strangling rains or heavy snow are urged to report it using the significant weather report form. “This goes immediately to the National Weather Service so they can issue flood warnings based on these reports,” Lutrell adds. For meteorologists, reports from CoCoRaHS allow them to incorpo- rate the all-important human impact of weather into their broadcasts. “Automated weather stations can’t tell us if the alfalfa died, if ponds went dry or there are no seeds,” she points out. The after-the-fact information is free and is useful across many dif- ferent industries. Over time, the data will provide a comprehensive, wide-angle view of state weather patterns. “We improve our data archives of what falls across the state in terms of precipitation, and this knowledge makes people more aware of their water resources so they can better manage them,” Lutrell says. Users of the network run the gamut from engineers to utility profes-


sionals. Farmers use the website to predict crop yields or assess irrigation needs. For insurance agents, the site is handy to forecast storm damage estimates and review claims. Construction companies log on to check moisture levels in the soil prior to kicking off projects, while the Army Corps of Engineers, USDA, the Soil Conservation Service and other agencies rely heavily on the site to monitor daily precipitation, drought conditions, wind, humidity, snow and hail. At Anadarko-based Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC),


CEO Gary Roulet logs on every morning to check rainfall amounts throughout the western half of the state, as well as wind, humidity, and other weather conditions.


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