If you don’t like the weather, monitor it yourself
July 11, 2008
The age of the citizen journalist has already been established, but the age of the citizen climatologist is just beginning.
Utah State University launched the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Program (CoCoRaHS) on July 1 in an effort to provide more accurate and thorough precipitation information for the state of Utah. So far, the project has recruited about 100 volunteer data collectors, but more are expected to join as the word spreads.
CoCoRaHS is based on a system pioneered by Colorado State University in 1998. The university began the program after a flood hit Fort Collins and caused severe damage, partially because poor data gathering led to inaccurate weather predictions. In response, the Colorado Climate Center at the university created a method of allowing the public to contribute to these scientific studies in order to increase their accuracy.
Utahns can join the 9,000 people nationwide already enrolled by volunteering via the CoCoRaHS Web site, http://www.cocorahs.org . Ezmael Malek, associate director of the Utah Climate Center and Associate Professor at Utah State University, has high hopes for the program that he believes has the potential for widespread impact in Utah and the United States, provided that enough people participate.
At the very least, if more people participate, Malek said that climatologist will be able to gather data for areas that have not been studied thoroughly to date. On a wider scale, he said that the data can help act as a predictor of floods. Disasters like this year’s flooding in the Midwest could possibly be avoided or alleviated with more sophisticated and comprehensive data, said Malek.
In Utah, the second driest state in the nation, this added information could prepare farmers and others to preserve every drop of water. Furthermore, they could better understand just how much water will be available at certain times of the year and could prepare accordingly.
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Apart from the far-reaching climatological consequences, the study could have an impact on the volunteers who choose to join. All of the volunteers who participate will learn to use their equipment via personal instruction or on-line tutorials. They will also gain a deeper understanding of the weather as they monitor these devices and keep in touch with CoCoRaHS representatives. Malek even plans to hold classes once large groups of interested people are established.
While CoCoRaHS presents an opportunity for laymen to learn about and join a serious scientific pursuit, if it seems as if their data could be susceptible to errors along their learning curve. But, said Malek, all of the data is filtered through the CoCoRaHS office in Fort Collins where they anticipate variations in the data and plan accordingly. Data can also be double-checked via other technology including weather radars.
On the other hand, volunteers can use the knowledge they have gained while studying the weather to check on the accuracy of other weather-predicting groups. Members can also see the results of their work as CoCoRaHS updates its information.
Even if their data may not be perfectly accurate, Utahns of all sizes and shapes may join the study. "We can see that people are actually eager to be in this project," said Malek. For more information, visit http://www.cocorahs.org .