WDC43: Managing and Utilizing Precipitation Observations from Volunteer Networks (from WERA_TEMP1012)

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

WDC43: Managing and Utilizing Precipitation Observations from Volunteer Networks (from WERA_TEMP1012)

Duration: 10/01/2018 to 09/30/2019

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Recent widespread and high impact drought in the U.S. along with a number of extreme flood events (e.g. the Missouri River Basin and Lower Mississippi in 2011, Hurricane Irene in 2011, Red River of the North in 2010 and many other examples) demonstrate, yet again, the incredible impact caused by variability and extremes in precipitation. Precipitation (rain, hail and snow) is one of the most important and most variable components of the climate system. To prepare and adapt to this variability, scientists, planners, managers and educators in many disciplines rely on and expect easy access to current and historic precipitation data. Examples of users and applications of precipitation data include agricultural production and marketing; water utilities managing the collection and distribution of ground and surface water for municipal and industrial uses; irrigation districts who distribute large volumes of water for agricultural production: storm water managers and flood plain administrators who help protect society from the catastrophic impacts caused by flooding; engineers and contractors who use available precipitation data to size, design and build bridges, culverts, roofs, drains, sewers, etc. to safely handle the vast majority of precipitation events; and insurance programs that require accurate precipitation data to determine where and when claims should be filed and payments made.

Climate monitoring has traditionally been a Federal responsibility. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), working through local and regional National Weather Service offices, has been responsible for the collection of precipitation data for the country back to the 19th Century. While the need for timely, accurate, site-specific precipitation data continues to grow, Federal budgets for climate observations have been flat or are shrinking. Maintaining nationwide observing networks is difficult and expensive. Technology is helpful but insufficient to address these needs. Gauges that automatically measure all forms of precipitation over all ranges of climatic conditions are expensive, require maintenance and are not always reliable. Evidence of the funding challenges became apparent in 2012, as funding for a NOAA network of high quality automated precipitation gauges in the U.S. (the Regional Climate Reference Network (R-CRN) was terminated. Remote sensing of precipitation (from satellite or from ground based radar systems) continues to grow in importance but does not overcome the need for surface observations since these technologies still rely on traditional gauge measurements at many locations to provide ground truth and calibration.

The need for ongoing precipitation measurements from many locations and over many years is obvious. But how to accomplish that with limited resources remains a challenge. One approach has been the National Weather Services Cooperative Observer Program with over 120 years of continuous nationwide temperature and precipitation measurements (including critical observations of snowfall and snow depth) from primarily volunteer observing sites across the country (on average, one or two per county). This is a truly remarkable national treasure of climate information and the only national network suitable for assessing regional climate patterns, interannual variability, drought and flood frequencies, and long-term trends both locally and nationally. Unfortunately, recent attempts to add resources to strengthen and modernize this network have been largely unsuccessful and efforts to downsize this network are currently underway.

In the past decade, a complementary program to the NWS Cooperative Program known as the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network was initiated by Colorado State University. It has demonstrated that even in the 21st Century there is an important place and function for manual, backyard volunteer precipitation measurements. Not only are the plastic rain gauges used by CoCoRaHS accurate and inexpensive, but participants also learn a great deal about weather, climate and hydrology through their ongoing participation.

The initial WERA1012 Coordinating Committee (1998-2013) provided an incredibly valuable opportunity to exchange information and expertise among University, Federal, state and local agencies involved in collecting or utilizing precipitation data from volunteer networks. The need continues and the interest in public participation in scientific research and data collection appears to be growing. We must learn how to grow, sustain and effectively manage networks of volunteers in todays society and leverage ever-changing communications technologies to improve the collection, analysis and dissemination of this much-needed precipitation information. This coordinating committee will address these needs and opportunities.


  1. Develop a full proposal
    Comments: Proposal will address the following objectives: • Promote volunteer precipitation observations as a cost effective approach to monitoring a highly variable and critically important element of our climate. • Increase the quantity and representativeness while improving the quality and usefulness of climate data collected from volunteer networks. • Increase and improve communication, connectedness and sense of purpose among and across the community of volunteers. • Conduct and promote research utilizing precipitation data from volunteers and volunteer networks. • Establish new and strengthen existing partnerships to provide financial assets, human resources and the intellectual capital needed to sustain these volunteer networks for years to come.

Procedures and Activities

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan


Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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