Backyard weather observers
Thousands of volunteers assist the National Weather Service on a daily basis.
Radar tells us many things about the weather, but it can't beat human observation. Having a rain gauge on your property allows you to know exactly how much fell at your place, despite what reported rain amounts are. The National Weather Service also wants to know what happens on our property. It has a Cooperative Observer Program with 10,000 official weather observers throughout the U.S. The program is 120 years old, and provides essential climate information.
Jim Zdrojewski is the acting national manager. He says even with the latest weather technology, the agency still needs human eyes to confirm the data.
"We can have radars that give a broad area of precipitation that's coming in, but, we also need to verify what is actually falling out of the clouds that are moving in as far as amounts of precipitation," he says. "The amounts can be taken into account into the hydrologic models and weather forecasting models so that we can actually produce a better forecast based off of that."
Weather observers record data once-per-day, writing down precipitation, and maximum and minimum temperatures. Some people also take soil temperatures, measure pan evaporation, and monitor river gauges.
The National Weather Service provides the equipment used to take these readings.
"The equipment has to be approved by the weather service to use so that we know how the equipment reacts, and we can determine if there are problems just by looking at the data, in many cases," says Zdrojewski. "We also do annual visits to make sure everything's still working properly, nothing develops leaks, or anything like that."
Every local National Weather Service office has a staff member who coordinates this effort. If you are interested in becoming a weather observer, give your local office a call.
Radio interview source: Jim Zdrojewski, Acting National Cooperative Observer Program Manager
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