Want to track storms? Weather Service needs local volunteers

Published 11:22 pm Sunday, May 12, 2024

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Prince Edward County needs volunteers. Well, to be clear, the entire region finds itself needing extra help when it comes to the forecasting business, but in Farmville, the National Weather Service project is down to just a handful. 

Let’s explain what that means. As we have all experienced the feeling of enduring different weather from what a meteorological forecast predicts, so it is not difficult to imagine that predicting and recording weather patterns is not always exact. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a volunteer-driven program that plays a role in helping the National Weather Service and numerous other organizations with this task. 

Volunteers participate in condition monitoring and reporting of rainfall, snowfall, and hail information in their area. These are just regular people taking precipitation data readings in their backyard or sometimes just taking readings in-between classes at school. Measurements are made using a high quality 4 inch rain gauge and hail pads, recorded by the volunteer, and reported to the CoCoRaHS Network via an interactive website or mobile app linked to the site. 

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But as we mentioned, volunteers can be hard to find. We mentioned there’s just a handful here in Prince Edward. If you go across the border to Charlotte County, the need is even higher, with just two volunteers for the entire area. And down further in Halifax County, Randy Bagby is the only volunteer. This is problematic because the less precipitation data recorded, the less accurate historical and predictive weather information will be, Bagby said. He is a Virginia Master Naturalist who works with the National Weather Service.

“Precipitation does not fall evenly everywhere.” Bagby said. “We have all probably observed a situation where it rained in one spot but not in another even a short distance apart.  By volunteers reporting what they received or did not receive, more accurate precipitation data is provided as to location and amounts.”

How did it get started? 

The program began with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University in 1998 in response to the area’s Fort Collins flood in 1997. The Network has grown to include over 8,000 volunteers. In addition to the National Weather Service, the information the 8,000 CoCoRaHS volunteers help collect is used by television meteorologists, hydrologists, researchers, and emergency managers among others. CoCoRaHS Intense Rain Reports have been used to allow forecasters to issue Flash Flood Warnings earlier, severe weather verification, severe weather follow ups, and area forecast discussions. 

“There is a wealth of information available and the opportunity to learn more about weather and how it changes is at your fingertips,” Bagby said. “And it may stir you to get more involved through other means as well, such as becoming a severe weather spotter (e.g. SkyWarn), or even weather nets on amateur (broadcasts).”

How can I join the Weather Service? 

Those interested in learning more about the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and  Snow Network can visit the organization’s site https://www.cocorahs.org/. An application to become a volunteer for the CoCoRaHS can be found at https://www.cocorahs.org/Application.aspx.