rain gauge
The Extension Office’s rain gauge (on a dry day)

By Paul Wilson, Columbia County Master Woodland Manager

My cats get me up every morning by 7:30.  They get fed.   I check the rain gauge.

Then I record the amount and other observations on a website.  After more than a year, I have a habit.   It’s simple, useful, and fun.

We’re five years into reforesting a clearcut.   The early spring after our first planting was unusually dry, but the effects varied a lot even on our small forest.  Clatskanie averages almost five feet of rain a year. Even so, we lost a lot of site-adapted seedlings because they dried out – in February and March.   Soil differences played a role.  But where we were able to irrigate a bit the trees thrived.

Last fall we saw a blurb in the paper about the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network.  When we checked out the CoCoRaHS website there was only one regularly reporting volunteer in Columbia County.  There are official weather stations around – the City of Clatskanie, the Kelso airport, and others, but none seemed to describe what happens right here.   
Our local Extension office offered a workshop to help get more people involved in precipitation monitoring.  We were intrigued, bought a rain gauge, studied how to mount it to get accurate readings, and started entering the numbers.

Recording rainfall on the CoCoRaHS website is easy.
Recording rainfall on the CoCoRaHS website is easy (click graphic to enlarge).

So now we are part of a network of rain gauges.  Our measurement goes into a national database where it is used together with National Weather Service data for everything from everyday weather forecasts and predicting river levels to building computer models and tracking the effects of climate change into the future.

Now, I learn every day something about what is happening on this place.  I know when I need to get out and check on road and ditch erosion.   I know how much I need to water the driest sites and when.  And I just like the routine of checking the gauge and knowing exactly how much rain fell here yesterday.

Being part of a network feels good.  Lots of small pieces, connected, become something vast.   Each bit makes the whole better, across the country.   It also works locally.   Looking at the map of daily reports in Columbia County, I can begin to see how the shape of the land changes how much rain falls where.  CoCoRaHS stations measuring the rain make the pattern.

Columbia County CoCoRaHS observations from Dec. 1, 2012 (left) and Dec. 1, 2013 (right). Note how many more stations are on the map! And the range of rainfall across the region.
Columbia County CoCoRaHS observations from Dec. 1, 2012 (left) and Dec. 1, 2013 (right). Note how many more stations are on the map! And the range of rainfall reported across the region (click graphic to enlarge).

Amy just did a follow-up survey of last spring’s workshop participants.  Other people who have put in gauges are also having a good time.   They use the information to run a water system, to know when to water newly planted plants, and to estimate when they will be able to get out and work the soil.  They like knowing how much rain fell.  People enjoy comparing rainfall amounts with neighbors, and looking at the maps and the record of what has happened (one person said, “I think a cloud lives over our house and I get more rainfall than others. But I can see on CoCoRaHS, it’s not true!”).  People are learning about the weather by attending webinars and reading the CoCoRaHS newsletter.  They watch the progress of storms.  Flower and veggie descriptions are read carefully; days are planned better.   Folks are just more aware of weather conditions, and they enjoy it.

Editor’s note: this is a follow up to an article I posted about a year ago, when we first started getting involved in CoCoRaHS. We’ve been thrilled by the positive reception from participants here in Columbia County, so look for future workshops in other counties in 2014.

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2 thoughts on “Rainfall monitoring pays off

  1. Where can I find some rain to monitor. I live in Columbia County and have put the rain gauge away for safe keeping, keep hoping some weather arrives. Is there such a thing as a fog gauge? The drought is frightening. Got to fight fossil fuel exports tooth and nail. We need our climate back, it’s not for sale!

  2. Marcia, no doubt, we haven’t seen much rain this fall around here….in fact, things are “abnormally dry”, though not officially a drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home.aspx. But don’t put away your rain gauge. Zero precipitation readings are just as important to the people that use our data. And, though I don’t think it actually rained here at our office yesterday, all that fog seems to have resulted in a reportable amount of precipitation in our gauge. Thanks for reading.

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