Volunteer Weather Observer Shocked by On-Farm Downpour October 11th, 2016

Posted in: General Watershed Moments

By Alan Wiebe at Seine-Rat River Conservation District

Harold and his brother were taken by storm last summer when they heard news that a deluge of rain dumped 2.81 inches of rain on their crop land near St. Elizabeth, Manitoba.

“We were in Winnipeg at the time and my brother phoned home to talk to my sister-in-law,” said Harold. “She said it was just pouring outside! We got home later and couldn’t believe what we saw. A storm cell had just formed and burst on our small area of land. You could have gone a mile in any direction from where we live and no one received any measureable amount of rain.”

The saying, “Rain doesn’t fall the same on all” certainly gives meaning to Harold, an avid CoCoRaHS volunteer weather observer. Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a grassroots network of volunteer weather observers of all ages and backgrounds. They work together to measure and map precipitation, including rain, hail, and snow, in their local communities. The data they report is used to better understand where precipitation falls in our communities and how weather affects our lives.

Harold checks his rain gauge every day and reports weather information online using an app on his phone. The extreme nature of the isolated precipitation event he experienced on July 15, 2015 caught the attention of CoCoRaHS weather watchers, including Tiffiny Taylor, Provincial Coordinator for CoCoRaHS Manitoba.

“Tiffiny called me to find out if there was a reporting error. I laughed at the time because my brother was with me to verify the huge amount of rain we received. The bad part was that our area got another 1.88 inches of rain the next day.” said Harold.

Today, we are seeing more severe precipitation events in the amount of rain that falls in a storm – even though annual precipitation events are staying the same. This means that multi-day storms are increasing in frequency and extreme precipitation events are becoming more severe and damaging.

The health of Harold’s farm is deeply connected to the weather and the health of the Marsh River watershed. He says that the CoCoRaS website is nice for keeping track of localized precipitation in his area in the Municipality of Montcalm, just east of the Red River.

“I love the way you can go on the website and check the map to see how much precipitation the neighbours got. It’s a great way of tracking total rainfall amounts and how much precipitation you have on your farm for the season.”

CoCoRaHS is the largest provider of daily precipitation observations in the United States. This network of volunteer observers report precipitation measurements throughout Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas. The daily observations collected by volunteer observers are reported in real-time and are used to provide high quality data for natural resource, education, and research applications.

“Every drop counts for volunteer weather reporting,” said Tiffiny, “including reports of zero precipitation. That’s because organizations across North America use CoCoRaHS data every day to get the latest weather reports as they come in.”

The Seine-Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD) uses CoCoRaHS data to help us model water flows in our watershed. Pete Hiebert is a SRRCD sub-watershed representative of the Manning Canal watershed. He is also a dedicated CoCoRaHS volunteer observer who is interested in checking how much moisture is in the snow. He believes that volunteer weather reporting is important because weather data is more accurate when there are more volunteer weather observers reporting.

The increasing frequency and severity of short-duration, high-intensity precipitation events means that volunteer observers play an important role in their communities. Organizations like the SRRCD benefit when there are more volunteers because they provide localized precipitation data that can be used to implement more effective surface water management strategies.

According to Tiffiny, “Managing erratic and extreme precipitation events, as well as longer, hotter, and drier growing seasons pose major adaptation challenges. That’s why precipitation data, and more of it, is really important. The data our volunteer observers provide tells us the story of our current climate conditions. More data gives us better tools to assess and address changes in our land and water systems. It also helps flood and drought forecasters, as well as decision-makers, make more informed decisions for managing risk, flood and drought mitigation, and building resilience in our communities.”

Joining the CoCoRaHS network as a volunteer weather observer is easy. Anybody with an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions can become a volunteer observer. Volunteers receive training and education on how to use low-cost measurement tools to report observations on the interactive CoCoRaHS website.

“I got involved with CoCoRaHS because I like tracking weather and precipitation. I am a farmer and it’s nice to see what my total precipitation amounts are for the year. The data we collect is also helping other organizations and this information is beneficial to everyone in the region.”

The SRRCD is pleased to partner with CoCoRaHS to measure and map precipitation data in our district. You can sign up to become a CoCoRaHS volunteer weather observer by visiting www.cocorahs.org. You can also find out more by contacting the SRRCD at one of our offices in the southeast. We can be reached in La Broquerie at (204) 424-5845, or in Vita at (204) 425-7877. You can also visit us online at www.srrcd.ca.