Volunteers Needed Year-Round for Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network

HOUSTON-GALVESTON REGION, February 28, 2012 - The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a non-profit, community-based organization that measures rain, hail and snow across the United States. During the month of March, the network will conduct a nationwide campaign – the CoCoRaHS Cup – to recruit volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to act as backyard data collectors.

Last year, Texas was second behind only North Carolina in the CoCoRaHS Cup category of most new observer stations added during the 2012 “March Madness” campaign. This year, the Houston-Galveston region of CoCoRaHS is working to make Texas first in the nation by recruiting a record number of volunteer rain-gage monitors from its 15 member counties.

Volunteers for CoCoRaHS do not need a meteorology degree – just an interest in weather conditions and a desire to learn more about how weather impacts our region. Volunteers are asked to obtain an official CoCoRaHS rain gage and place it in a strategic location. They take precipitation measurements each day at approximately the same time – or as often as possible – and record those measurements on the CoCoRaHS website, (www.cocorahs.org).

Many agencies rely on precipitation data collected by CoCoRaHS during and after rainfall and flood events to determine where the most rain has fallen and where the potential for flooding is greatest. CoCoRaHS’s volunteer precipitation reports help to fill in the gaps between official rainfall data collection sites in our region, such as the Harris County Flood Control District’s Flood Warning System (www.harriscountyfws.org), the National Weather Service’s climate sites, and the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Hydromet system (http://hydromet.lcra.org/full.aspx).

”Ground truth is always better than radar because it shows what is actually happening,” says Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist Jeff Lindner, who heads the Houston/Galveston region of the CoCoRaHS Network. “Texas can have incredible, locally intense rains that don’t always detect well on the radar and might go unnoticed without our CoCoRaHS observers.”

The data reported by volunteers is organized and displayed on the website for use by meteorologists, hydrologists and emergency managers – as well as the general public.  The Flood Control District, National Weather Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture utilize CoCoRaHS data in their work, along with engineers, insurance adjusters, mosquito control technicians, ranchers and farmers, teachers and students, and public works managers concerned with water supply, water conservation and stormwater quality. These agencies and experts use the information for everything from severe storm analysis to comparisons of how much rain fell in neighboring backyards.

The Houston/Galveston region of the CoCoRaHS Network currently has approximately 338 volunteers in 15 counties:  Austin (8), Brazoria (21), Chambers (8), Colorado (6), Fort Bend (27), Galveston (41), Harris (123), Jackson (4), Liberty (3), Matagorda (3), Montgomery (32), Polk (28), San Jacinto (9), Waller (9), and Wharton (16) counties. The network needs many more volunteers to better measure precipitation across the region.

To join, go to the CoCoRaHS website (www.cocorahs.org) and click on the “Join CoCoRaHS” emblem in the upper right corner of the homepage. The website also offers information on the organization’s background, training and educational tools, where to purchase the required CoCoRaHS rain gage, how and where to set up the gage on your property, and much more. County and regional coordinators are available to host training presentations across the region.

About the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network and the CoCoRaHS Cup

In July 1997, a devastating flash flood dumped more than 12 inches of rain on sections of Fort Collins, Colo., resulting in $200 million in damages. In 1998, CoCoRaHS launched at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University with the goal of making improvements in the mapping and reporting of intense storms.

As more volunteers joined in, rain, hail and snow maps were produced for storms of all shapes and sizes, and the resulting data patterns caught the interest of scientists and the general public. By 2010, CoCoRaHS was a nationwide volunteer network. CoCoRaHS is supported nationally by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Partners in Texas include the Office of the State Climatologist (Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon) at Texas A&M University, the Lower Colorado River Authority, the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas at Austin, the Harris County Flood Control District, and many other agencies.

Such reports are vital in this part of the country where rainfall can vary greatly over a small area. The importance of the CoCoRaHS Network was clearly demonstrated in May 2012 when a narrow band of very heavy rainfall produced amounts of 4-8 inches over parts of Fort Bend and Harris counties. The Sugar Land Airport recorded 8.25 inches of rainfall on May 11-12, but a CoCoRaHS observer in the Pecan Grove subdivision not far from the airport recorded an amazing 11.19 inches overnight. Without this observer, this amount of rainfall would have gone undetected.

In the annual CoCoRaHS Cup, states compete in “traditional” and “per capita” categories. Last year, Texas placed 2nd in the traditional category, with 133 new volunteer observers recruited overall during the March campaign. But Texas came in only 10th when the count was weighted by state population. Last year, states with smaller populations such as North Dakota and Oklahoma ranked higher in their per capita number of new CoCoRaHS stations.

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