Jackie Hope: You can be a weatherman
Ever wonder who collects all that rain and snow, and measures it for the weather people? Well, wonder no more, because the bucket — the rain bucket — stops here.
The CoCoRaHS organization is a volunteer-staffed network of weather enthusiasts from Canada, Puerto Rico and the United States. It is the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, and its members measure rainfall, snowfall, dewfall, hailstones, ice and snow depth, and just about everything else relating to weather. And then they report their findings at an online site, where the data is quantified and verified and fancified into info used by the National Weather Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other meteorological researchers around the world.
CoCoRaHS started on the Colorado State University campus in 1998 and has grown to include several thousand volunteers from all the states, as well as the Canadian provinces. Major sponsors of the network are NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the guys who send out those “duck and cover” warnings when bad weather is on the way, and the National Science Foundation, the guys who help underwrite some of those wicked cool science shows on PBS.
When you sign on to be a CoCoRaHS volunteer, you get some pretty amazing toys, too. They send you a big honker rain gauge with an official-looking label on the side. Because hey, man, we’re scientists here. That rain gauge is even bigger than a Big Gulp. Imagine a movie theater concession-sized slushie, with a straw about the size of a garden hose, and there you got the official CoCo rain gauge. The straw part holds an inch of rain, and any overflow goes into the mega-sized Slushie cup. And in the winter time you have to remove the inner core of the gauge, and collect and measure snow in the Slushie cup.
Now, like I said, we are all scientists here, so we don’t merely measure the inches of snow in our Slushie cup. We melt the snow, in a real scientific way, and then measure the moisture content of the snow. Because some snow is drier than other snow. Just like some science lectures are drier than others. Like organic chemistry, with all those models of … oops. You didn’t hear any acidic comments from us about organic chemistry, because we are all scientists here.
There are training videos for newbies, where you can learn how to properly measure stuff, like snow depth. No, you and your moon boots don’t just stomp out into the backyard, and stick a ruler in the snow. You stomp out into the backyard and stick the ruler in lots of spots of snow, and then take the average reading of snow depth. See, we scientists have to be mathematicians, too. We have to figure “means.” “Means” means averages. We have to know those real special mathematical terms, too. And we mean it.
During ice storms we measure “accretion.” That is a scientific word, which is the amount of ice that has built up on things like tree branches and power lines. One of the first things we learn about measuring ice accretion is to not measure the accretion on power lines. Usually a CoCo volunteer only tries that once. Usually that volunteer gets burned out real fast, so to speak. Instead, we measure the ice accumulation on tree branches. Measuring ice on tree branches is not as exciting or electrifying as measuring ice on power lines, but as Martha Stewart says, that is a “good thing.”
We also get to tune into monthly webinars from folks at the National Weather Service, folks at all sorts of high-brow colleges, and nerds who work at NASA. For freaking cool! NASA nerds! The webinars are interactive, so during the Q&A we can ask the speakers really well-thought-out questions, too. Like asking the oceanographers about what is causing all the airplanes and boats to disappear in the Bermuda Triangle. Or asking the NASA nerds if there is anything living in the water on Mars. Not that anyone we personally know would ask those kinds of questions. Just throwing them out there, that’s all.
Do you play in the rain and snow? Do you want to be like all the cool kids? Surf on over to www.cocorahs.org and sign up to become a weather observer. Then you, too, can run out into hail storms and snatch up hailstones to measure and photograph. You can trudge out to the rain/snow gauge at 7 a.m. every morning to check the daily precipitation — because the check-in time is always 7 a.m., even when it is 39 degrees below zero with a 40 mph wind. And in the summer you can fight half-a-dozen crazed yellow jackets for the last two drops of moisture in the rain gauge.
Because hey, man, we are all scientists here, and we want you to be a scientist, too!