@CoCoRaHS: Citizen science success

Nolan Doesken — Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President’s Award Presentation 2011

From The Littleton Independent (Amy Thomson):

Steve Austin has been measuring the precipitation levels in his backyard every morning since 2005 at his home in Northglenn. Outside of a few weekend trips, he hasn’t missed a day.

“I’ve been doing it so long, it’s just part of what I do,” he said. “Get up, get washed, shaved and measure the rain.”

He doesn’t keep that data for his own amusement but sends it off to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS, an international group of volunteers that use their rain gauges to help the National Weather Service and other environmental organizations.

“Moisture is so important,” the retired engineer said. “If you only get one-tenth of an inch, CoCoRaHS wants to know.”


“Rainfall is so variable,” Education Coordinator Noah Newman said. “A rainstorm could go right in between the official stations of the National Weather Service and they might not know how much rain fell.”

And that’s happened before.

“It all started from the Fort Collins flood in 1997,” Newman said. The weather service’s station was out by I-25 and hadn’t picked up on the dangerous incoming storm. As a result, the community never received a warning to evacuate and five people died.

Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken realized that starting a community network of rain gauges could save some lives and the network was formed, according to Newman.

What began with a handful of people in Colorado now comprises 20,000 volunteers across the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas.

The nonprofit asks that observers report data every morning, but it’s not required. The only equipment necessary is a $35 rain gauge.

Recording the precipitation measurement is simple. There is a funnel to direct rainwater into a plastic pipe, called the measuring tube, that tells how much rain fell in the past 24 hours.

Measuring snow requires a few additional steps, like weighing the snow from your rain gauge to determine the precipitation amount and reporting the inches of snow in your backyard. Volunteers say it takes between 5 and 15 minutes a day.

The Urban Drainage and Flood Control District (UDFCD) uses this data regularly. They have an alert system of 200 automatic rain gauges across the Denver and Boulder areas to measure and identify when heavy rainstorms are happening and alert the public of appropriate safety measures. But the volunteer data makes this system more robust.

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