This Father’s Day, Turn Your Dad Into a Weather Man

Dennis Doherty of Plymouth, Massachusetts is one of 15,000 volunteers nationally that measure daily precipitation as part of the CoCoRaHS network. Photo: Henry Reges


My father used to say that if you want a reliable weather forecast you should step outside and see if you get wet.

There’s a lot of wisdom and truth in that advice.  For all the amazing technology we’ve developed for detecting and predicting the weather, there is absolutely no substitute for real-world, on-the-ground measurements. Even the most sophisticated technologies for mapping weather patterns — such as radar systems or weather satellites — ultimately depend upon ground measurements for their calibration.  And the greater the number of those measurements, the more accurate the weather estimates, maps, and predictions will be.

As we all know, the weather can vary greatly from one place to another.  You might get a deluge of rain one day and your friends a few miles away may get nothing.  That’s why weather scientists dream of a planet covered by a grid of weather monitoring stations spaced at regular distances, enabling accurate mapping of day-to-day changes in weather.

Our National Weather Service keeps track of more than 12,000 climate stations across the U.S.  More than 11,000 of these stations are run by volunteers as part of a “Cooperative Observer Network” that began way back in 1890.  These volunteers are the unsung heroes that continuously feed data into the weather reports on your TV news or into your smart phone apps.

But even with that admirable effort by the NWS and its volunteer network, many large gaps still exist between monitoring stations.  In these times of economic austerity, the prospects for filling those gaps would appear bleak.

This is where you come in.

Photo: Henry Reges

Beginning in 1998, my friend and former colleague Nolan Doesken at Colorado State University came up with a new idea for filling the gaps in precipitation monitoring.  He formed a new volunteer network called CoCoRaHS, the “Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network” (Nolan never was any good at marketing!).

Basically, it works like this.  You sign up to become a volunteer by filling out a form, purchase a rain gauge for less than $30, install it in your backyard, and take an easy training course that will teach you how to collect and submit your data.

If you act quickly you can get your father signed up to become a Weather Man by Father’s Day!

More than 15,000 volunteers are participating in CoCoRaHS, from all 50 states.  Each day, their data is published online for the world to see.  Perhaps most importantly, participating in CoCoRaHS will tune you into what’s happening in your own backyard.

Dad, your Father’s Day gift is in the mail.



Meet the Author
Brian Richter has been a global leader in water science and conservation for more than 25 years. He is the Chief Scientist for the Global Water Program of The Nature Conservancy, an international conservation organization, where he promotes sustainable water use and management with governments, corporations, and local communities. He is also the President of Sustainable Waters, a global water education organization. Brian has consulted on more than 120 water projects worldwide. He serves as a water advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, and the United Nations, and has testified before the U.S. Congress on multiple occasions. He also teaches a course on Water Sustainability at the University of Virginia. Brian has developed numerous scientific tools and methods to support river protection and restoration efforts, including the Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration software that is being used by water managers and scientists worldwide. Brian was featured in a BBC documentary with David Attenborough on “How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?” He has published many scientific papers on the importance of ecologically sustainable water management in international science journals, and co-authored a book with Sandra Postel entitled Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature (Island Press, 2003). His new book, Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability, was published by Island Press in June 2014.