Weather observer program seeks help

The nation’s largest network of citizen meteorologists is looking for help.

Organizers of the Community Collaborative Rain, Haul and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS, are in the midst of a recruiting drive and say prospective volunteers won’t need a doctorate in meteorology – just an interest in weather and a willingness to spend about $30.

David Glenn, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Morehead City, said the Charlotte region has “a surprisingly low number” of volunteers. He said there are 49 CoCoRaHS members in a five-county area around Charlotte, compared to 104 in a similar zone in Raleigh.

CoCoRaHS volunteers have a relatively simple job. Once a day, they measure the amount of precipitation that fell the previous 24 hours, then transmit that information.

The data is used by businesses, agricultural interests and, of course, government and private meteorologists.

“The data can be used for community leaders to plan in possible flood events, or it can be used in research, or in climatology,” said Matt Eastin, who teaches meteorology at UNC Charlotte and coordinates the CoCoRaHS program in the immediate Charlotte area. “There’s an airport that reports precipitation in each county. But in the summer, if a thunderstorm doesn’t go over the airport, the rain isn’t measured.

“This helps fill in the gaps.”

Cathleen Gallagher, a Wisconsin native now living in Huntersville, is among the CoCoRaHS volunteers.

“In the morning, I wake up, go outside, and read the rain gauge,” Gallagher says. “It takes about three seconds. I’m really interested in science. I’m curious. And that’s why I got involved in this.”

Johnny Hoyle of Lincolnton doubles as a CoCoRaHS observer and a spotter for the National Weather Service.

“It helps build an information network,” he said of his volunteer duties. “It affects industry, agriculture ... and power companies depend on it. And I really enjoy weather. I like observing it on a daily basis.”

Jerry Landry of Davidson said the only cost is the $30 for a CoCoRaHS-approved rain gauge. Since joining the network in 2008, his only additional cost has been $9.25 to replace the cylinder in the gauge, after it was damaged in a severe thunderstorm.

Adding a little juice to the recruiting drive is a national competition to add members. The drive ends Monday, and Florida (123 new members) is leading North Carolina (120) in the battle for first place.

Gallagher said she was fearful of severe thunderstorms while growing up but said that fear led her curiosity to learn more about storms. “I still hold a deep respect for Mother Nature,” she said.