Observers weather the elements for collaborative
One never knows what his or her neighbors may be up to. If you happen to see your neighbor poking around in the snow or rain with odd tools, don’t automatically assume he or she has cracked up.
Your neighbor may be a member of the weather observers of McHenry County, a group dedicated to providing information to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, otherwise known as CoCoRaHs.
Though mysterious, CoCoRaHs is not a secret society.
With 15,000 members across the country, CoCoRaHs volunteers head out every morning to check rain gauges, snow boards and measure hail. They use 4-inch rain gauges, 16-inch snow boards and rulers to take measurements of precipitation. The data is then tracked via online report forms through the CoCoRaHs Network. The National Weather Service, meteorologists, the government, hydrologists, forest pathologists and farmers analyze the data, looking for weather explanations and facts they might have missed.
“We’re not meteorologists, but we can provide people with information about what actually happened,” said CoCoRaHs coordinator and weather observer Mary Moltmann.
“CoCoRaHs data supplements what the meteorologists have.”
CoCoRaHs began in 1998 when meteorologists at the Colorado Climate Center sought out ways to track water after the disastrous Fort Collins flood the year prior. The network spread around the United States, with the first group forming in Illinois in 2006. There are currently 500 active stations across the state and 26 in McHenry County. Moltmann said it is important for McHenry County to continue to participate so as to be aware of what is happening with county water reservoirs.
In a 2006 McHenry County Groundwater Resources Management Study put together by Baxter & Woodman Inc., the findings suggested McHenry County will have water shortages by the year 2030 due to factors such as construction over water recharge areas.
“Water is so important. It’s critical [to be aware],” Moltmann said.
A psychologist by profession, she became a CoCoRaHs member in January of 2007.
“I got involved due to my weather geekiness, and I love The Weather Channel. It’s fascinating …. I wasn’t aware of how much the people behind the weather service were trying to fine tune their observations.
“When I ran into Tom Skilling at the CoCoRaHs Coordinators Meeting [at the NWS Office] in Romeoville, he told me he really appreciated what CoCoRaHs was doing in McHenry County. He said there aren’t many reporters in McHenry County and to keep the information coming.”
Though volunteers primarily track precipitation, the information reported provides additional insight into environmental issues such as drought and bug and mosquito infestation ratios based on rainfall or lack thereof. The data is also useful for people experiencing flooding problems to present to insurance companies. After the blizzard of 2011, Boone County was awarded FEMA relief after providing the government with CoCoRaHs reports.
Volunteers are encouraged to check precipitation on a daily basis but will not be reprimanded if unable to submit reports.
“If you are sick, etc., you won’t get an angry email for not having your report in,” said Moltmann, laughing. “It’s interesting to tromp out to the gauge.
“Anyone with an interest in precipitation should certainly think about joining. Go to the website, see what is available. You can bring up the county map and see what’s happening … you may not want to join but might find it interesting to check out your Aunt Helen’s weather in Montana …. I also want people to know how useful the data is for others.”