Come Rain or Shine

CoCoRaHS: Citizen Science in Weather Reporting

June 01, 2021 USDA Southwest Climate Hub & DOI Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center Season 2 Episode 8
Come Rain or Shine
CoCoRaHS: Citizen Science in Weather Reporting
Show Notes Transcript

CoCoRaHS is an acronym for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. CoCoRaHS is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow), with the unique ability to capture fine-scale variability in local precipitation. CoCoRaHs is currently in all fifty states and currently expanding internationally as well. In this episode we are speaking with CoCoRaHs founder Nolan Doesken, National Coordinator Henry Reges, and Education Coordinator Noah Newman about the network’s origins, current operations, how to get involved, and who uses the data collected.


CoCoRaHs Network: https://www.cocorahs.org/

National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) Climate Normals 

WxTalk Webinars (Weather Talk Webinars)


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Affiliate links:

DOI Southwest CASC: https://www.swcasc.arizona.edu/

USDA Southwest Climate Hub: https://www.climatehubs.usda.gov/hubs/southwest

Sustainable Southwest Beef Project: https://southwestbeef.org/

Sarah LeRoy: Welcome to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub and the USGS Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center or Southwest CASC. I'm Sarah LeRoy, Science Applications and Communications Coordinator for the Southwest CASC. 

Emile Elias: And I'm Emile Elias, Director of the Southwest Climate Hub. Here we highlight stories to share the most recent advances in climate science, weather and climate adaptation and innovative practices to support resilient landscapes and communities. 

Sarah LeRoy: We believe that sharing some of the most innovative forward thinking and creative climate science and adaptation will strengthen our collective ability to respond to even the most challenging impacts of climate change in one of the hottest and driest regions of the world.

Precipitation is something that varies greatly depending on topography, storm type, and season. It can also vary substantially across space. Especially here in the Southwest, where it can be raining in one part of town, and dry in another. Capturing this fine scale of variability is one of the aims of the CoCoRaHS network.

CoCoRaHS is an acronym for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow network, and I'm curious about where that name came from. CoCoRaHS is a unique non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation, currently in all 50 states. Today, we are speaking with CoCoRaHS Founder Nolan Doesken, National Coordinator Henry Reges, and Education Coordinator Noah Newman. Let's start off with a little bit of background. Nolan, what was the inspiration for the CoCoRaHS network and how was it created? 

Nolan Doesken: Well, I don't know if you like calling it an inspiration or not, but we had one nasty storm here in Fort Collins back in the summer of 1997 and it was ferocious.

But we didn't know how localized it was until after the fact.  We had major flash flooding, our campus was really flooded badly here at Colorado State. We had fatalities near campus, a very bad deal, and we had very, very, very little information about how much rain had fallen to cause this flood.

And it turned out we had just that summer, had hired a high school student to help work with us on an idea. We knew we were short on hail information. We were working on an idea to work with schools, to perhaps recruit students for their summer months to help us gather hail information. And we were doing some testing with that, we had sort of a feasibility study in progress when boom, this storm hit. And suddenly we redirected all of our attention into gathering precipitation data to try to piece together how much rain fell. And it was tough and it took literally several months to get all the information assembled. It required almost going door to door once we honed in on the neighborhoods that had the heaviest rain, trying to find out who had a gauge, how could we put this together? And when it was all said and done, when we put a fine map together of our best estimate of how much rain fell and what we found was over 14 inches of rain had fallen in parts of Fort Collins in less than two inches in others.

And we're not that big of a city, which was quite incredible to see. And that information ended up being extremely valuable. And uh, as time went on, as we were talking to people, as we completed this process, people started saying, well, is there anything we could do to help?

And we began with the help of this one student that we'd already had working on hail. They said, well, maybe we could do this with rain. And we began the endeavor that turned out to be CoCoRaHS. And it started as the Colorado Collaborative Rain and Hail Study. We weren't thinking national. We weren't, we were just thinking local, and we were just thinking of summer storms, but it sort of got away from us in the years that followed and it's become a much bigger beast ever since.

Emile Elias: Wow, that's really interesting. I didn't realize that the network evolved from this really intense, devastating storm and became something so much bigger than you thought it would be, needing to change the name from Colorado, and it really expanding. So I'm curious for Henry and Noah, how did you become involved in the network? And we'll start with Henry first. 

Henry Reges: Sure. Well, back in  2004, I was working at the American Meteorological Society headquarters in Boston, and was talking to Nolan at a conference we had out in Seattle. And he mentioned that there might be an opening  with the network. And at that time we were only in Colorado, I think Wyoming, and I think that was it at the time Nolan, if I remember correctly. But I had a vision of, this would be a great thing to expand the network nationwide, and contacts I had at AMS and other places. I  I applied, and they hired me and I've had a lot of fun. I mean, it's been 17 years now going on working with the network, watched it go from just a few states. Now we're in The Bahamas, we're in Canada, all the provinces of Canada and the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. 

 I do some of the international stuff as well. And so  yeah, so  that's kind of how I became involved as a meteorologist. I'm always interested in precipitation. I always would remember how, you know, some parts of town would get just a little bit, some would get more and  just thought this would be a great opportunity to dive in and become part of this team.

And what's interesting, we've got a core staff now of about five of us that have been with the program over 10 years. So not a lot of change in our group over time. But we all love working together. We're all friends and it's just a great place. 

Emile Elias: That's great to hear how it grew and how you've stayed together as a team. So  Noah, how did you join this team? 

Noah Newman: Right. So right around that same time of around 2004, I was working at Colorado State University more or less in the same building as where CoCoRaHS was housed.  I was doing a, working for a different program, it was a science outreach program. Similar where students were taking scientific measurements and learning how to, to the scientific process and how to enter data.

And as that program moved, that office I was working for over to another state, I was more interested in staying in Colorado. And so I walked across the hall and knocked on Nolan's door. And meanwhile, they of course didn't quite have just an opening right away for me, but they were in the process of writing a grant proposal to expand as Henry had just begun.

And I helped out with the proposal. And we wrote in the notion of an Education Coordinator named Noah Newman. And once the funding happened, it was a nice way to, to get me in the door. And I've been with CoCoRaHS ever since. 

Henry Reges: And we saw a lot of potential in Noah watching him across the hall, work with the other group. So we knew we don't want to lose this guy. 

Sarah LeRoy: That's great. It sounds like you guys have a really  close-knit group working together.  Great atmosphere. So we've talked about how you guys got into this network, but we haven't really talked much about what the network really is. So this question is for any of you that want to jump in, how does the network work and who uses the data that's collected? 

Nolan Doesken: Oh, I'll start. From the very beginning, what we were really striving for was a way of bringing in localized precipitation information quickly and efficiently. And we had, this could have been a part of my introduction, but we originally hired three high school students. One who was a young web developer from the 1998 vintage, one was  a soon-to-be computer programmer, and one was sorta of a, just a community developer.  All high school students, three different high schools. And  what they ended up putting together was a website, a web portal where people could come in, enter data on a webpage that would feed into a database.

And from that, it would immediately show up on maps and reports, and that's ended up being just essential for the ongoing success. Because as soon as somebody enters their daily report, they ended up being able to see their data, both spatially and temporally in time. And so, that's really what it is.

And we standardized the type of rain gauge so that everybody uses the same type of rain gauge. And by good fortune, the rain gauge that we chose was one that the National Weather Service viewed as consistent with the accuracy requirements of their data collection needs. And that ended up also being an essential early decision that resulted in a great partner in the National Weather Service going forward. But simply, volunteers put out a rain gauge, a standardized rain gauge, follow some basic instructions, report online, and since then we've added things like apps to make it smartphone compatible and things like that.

And the data all comes streaming in and then are immediately available to share. And I think I'll let Henry or Noah talk about the users of the data, but it's just been really fun to watch this occur over time. 

Henry Reges: Yeah okay, I'll jump in quickly and then let Noah supplement what I'm saying with the users.

We were surprised, we didn't realize how many people actually started using our data at first and a long list of  different groups. The National Weather Service was one that was right away important with that. A lot of farmers and agricultural people would use it, different municipalities for their storm water, looking at snow pack and so forth. Recreation areas  doing that, engineering is another group that  looked at our stuff.  Weather service for radar, calibrating their radars and seeing what actually fell on the ground. So that was important.  Noah, you want to name a few others?

Noah Newman: Yeah, I would jump in and say that the, an interesting part of the data, there's almost a progression or a step stone where if a person submits data after a rainstorm, the day after their 24 hour amount, that's really helpful for lots of applications, whether it be meteorology or even studying a specific storm. But if a volunteer gets in the habit and submits every day, including when it does not rain, well their zero is very important for drought scientists.

And if they're really in the habit and get to the point where they're, they've submitted an entire month, now you've got a full month of complete data and that is getting into the world of valuing it like gold for climatologists. And now as the network is over 20 years old, we've got some volunteers who have got 5,000, 6,000 plus measurements, and they've been doing it for over a decade.

And CoCoRaHS data are now in the mix when it comes to the provisional and pseudo normals that have just been released by the new NCEI [National Centers for Environmental Information] normals that were just introduced for this new decade this last week. 

Henry Reges: Yeah. I think people don't realize when they take that observation in their backyard or their front yard, wherever, whichever part of the yard the gauge is in, that their stuff is really used.

And you know, it's not there's data that goes into books somewhere, but it's actually used in real time a lot of times, it doesn't just go on the shelf. The other thing we have are called significant weather reports and somebody can go and submit a significant weather report in real time if there's heavy rain, snow, or hail coming down. That goes right to the National Weather Service to their AWIPS [Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System] stations and sends an alarm.

And  it's an extra set of eyes and ears out there for them. If there's flooding upstream, they can issue a flash flood warning or so forth and save lives with that. And we've had several instances across the country where this has been really important. And so again, another thing that we didn't realize would really play a big role in, with the CoCoRaHS data.

So there's two types of reports. There's the 24 hour report that you do, but these supplemental ones when you're experiencing intense precipitation. 

Nolan Doesken: And, there's also the condition reports. 

Henry Reges: Oh yeah. You want to talk about those? 

Nolan Doesken: No, I think I'll let you do the talking on this one. You've promoted it to the Southwest.

Henry Reges: Yeah. Well, the condition report, so condition monitoring. We've got a report on there, folks can submit as often as they like. We try to get them to report at least once a week. But what is the condition of the landscape where you are, or in your area? Is it extremely dry? Is it somewhat dry? Is it normal? Is it wet? Is it really wet? 

And these reports are very important. They can go online and put those in, there's anecdotal information they can put in there; that their ponds are full of water, or if it's really dry, maybe their cows are just giving powdered milk. And so basically that information goes in, it's used by the National Drought Mitigation Center. They look at that information for drought reports, drought impact reports and so forth for their stuff. And so these have become really valuable. We started that in the last couple of years. And so it gives a really good, a good look at the nation as to, as the trends on what's happening. Whether people are going into drought or not. 

Sarah LeRoy: Well, it's great to hear that this data is being used by so many different places and sources for their planning. And I just think, you know, here in Tucson, this was mentioned, but you know, we get a monsoon storm and it's great in one part of the city and terrible in the other.

And the airport is the only station that gets recorded. So, you know, the airport could have way below average one season, but yet the north side of town was much wetter than average. So the data is, yes, it's great that it's useful in so many ways. So speaking of monsoon season, right, that's coming up quickly here in the Southwest.

And so my question is if someone wants to join this network and start recording at their house, how can they do that?

Noah Newman: I'll answer that. The only thing that it takes to join the network, as Nolan mentioned earlier, is to use the proper rain gauge. That is, honestly the one and only non-negotiable if you will, with participating in the network. We don't require people to submit data every day. We don't even require you to submit it at a specific time. We want you to stay consistent in your 24 hour report, and we have recommendations to take your measurement every day at 7:00 AM. But you go to our website, you click join and you fill out an easy application to let us know where you live.

We don't share any of that information of course, but your dot is then mapped on the map. And so some people will, for instance, request, if they're concerned about privacy, we can put the dot in the middle of a cul-de-sac. So it's not exactly singling out a specific house. But there are other people who are so into it they'll write to us and say, oh, you need to move my dot five feet to the west because my gauge is in my backyard, but in a slightly different location. The other thing I'll say, there's a lot of people that feel that they don't have a good location. Maybe there's too many trees or they're just, they've got dogs in their backyard.

So it's not a good location to maybe measure snow, but we tell people to do their best. If you can get your gauge as far away from obstacles as you can, but within reason to where it's still easy for you to get to, and if your gauge can see the sky well, you're doing something right. And so we, we want you to give it a try. 

Henry Reges: You know, and the most important thing too is when you get that gauge, is take it out of the box. I know folks who've gotten the gauge and it sits in the box for a couple months, and put it out right away, even if you don't have the best location to get started.

And that's important. And what you'll do is we'll assign you a station name and number, and a that's kind of fun to have that as well. Folks have that. The gauges run  around $30, $35, depends  on where you order them from plus shipping. But again, it's, it's not your grandfather's rain gauge. This is a, this is a pretty hefty four inch plastic gauge. And I think  when you get one you'll be surprised at how good it is. 

Nolan Doesken: Four inch diameter.

Henry Reges: Diameter. Yes. Sorry about that.

Sarah LeRoy: And so how does someone get this rain gauge, is the information up on your website? 

Noah Newman: It is, and there's links on the application form as well.

We’re, we, as CoCoRaHS at Colorado State University, are not in the business of selling rain gauges, there are links on our website to multiple vendors that sell them, but there is one particular vendor that that we work with in particular that tries to sell it for the cheapest amount. And so they have a higher prominence on the website, but they're not the, it's not a monopoly either. 

Henry Reges: Yeah. And that vendor was a stay-at-home mom raising her kids. And so, used to work for the Weather Service, so we kind of try to help her out. 

Sarah LeRoy: That's great. So it sounds like this has been extremely successful so far, but I'm guessing that there have been maybe some challenges, possibly along the way. So we wanted to ask what are the biggest challenges in running a citizen science network, especially one that's grown so large and to another country.

Nolan Doesken: We all come with different perspectives on this, but there are challenges and it's not always easy. And there’s, sometimes we stumble over our own feet, but one of the hurdles is simply getting people to sign up and then making that decision to buy a gauge. We wish we had the funds to give anybody who wanted to join the network a gauge. It's just not been realistic. There are some places and states and some situations where gauges are available. And if somebody is really in economic hardship, we'll make sure we figure out how we can get them a gauge. But just getting a gauge and getting it installed and getting it started. That's been a big hurdle for lots of people. If they can get over that one hurdle, chances are they'll be with us for a while. 

Henry Reges: The other tricky part is funding the network to keep it sustained. Now we've done that for over 22 years with grants and so forth, but we really haven't had much in the way of grants in the last five years.

We've been very successful through a year-end fundraiser that we hold every year, and people that give a certain amount, get a t-shirt and so forth.  We also have users of the data that help contribute toward it. So it's been very successful in that sense that people want to help out to keep the network going.

And we're always surprised. You never know. We'll get, as Nolan and Noah can attest, we get these opportunities that come out of the blue sometimes. And you know, it's funny when I took the job, it was a two year appointment wondering if  we'd all  last longer than two years and here it's going on 17. So it continues to be very valuable by the users and the people that take the observations. 

Noah Newman: And I would say one of the challenges in general is when it comes to recruiting. You know, we've got a goal of having, in densely populated areas, we'd like  one rain gauge in every square mile.

And in rural areas, we would like one rain gauge for every 36 square miles. And the challenges are on both sides. In densely populated areas, you might have people that want to join but if you live in an apartment complex that's just not gonna allow it, or maybe even a high rise building in the downtown area.

There really sometimes is not a place that you can, you can’t just stick it on your balcony and make it work. So in places where there are people who would want to participate, they sometimes just can't. And then in places where we really need extra data in rural areas, rural is rural. There's not many people out there at all, and in some places, nobody.

And so it's, it's sometimes difficult recruiting and in all areas in different parts. And then the last thing I'll say is people's different phases of life. And it might be fun and interesting to do as a student while you're living at home. But then you go away to college. You might get married and have kids, and you've got a lot going on.

And then later in life, you're, you've got time to do things you love. And so we've actually got a lot of volunteers who are retired and we sometimes struggle to find volunteers in the middle parts of life when things are hectic, and that's understandable. 

Henry Reges: And is it, I like to say, you know, the recruiting part is like water coming into a pipe and out of a pipe.

And we want to keep that water in the pipe as long as we can. You know again, as Noah says people as they get older, sometimes they pass away and so forth, or go to school. And so what we can do for retention a lot of times, once people start observing after about that hundredth observation, they seem to be hooked and we've got a pretty good  among citizen science programs of onboarding where I think Nolan, we run around 66% of people who sign up make that first observation we've found year after year. And that's pretty good just for a volunteer network like this. 

Sarah LeRoy: That makes me think of another question which is, what if somebody moves? Does the station move with them? Or…?

Henry Reges: Well, you're not allowed to move. Once you sign up, you have to stay in the same place the rest of your life. That's in the contract. No, I'm kidding. Noah, you want to...

Noah Newman: Yeah, once you move you can just contact us and let us know, and we would assign you a new station as you move your gauge with you.

We've actually had a lot of people who leave their gauge behind and tell the new homeowners all about CoCoRaHS and they end up recruiting a new set of observers for an old station, and then they set up a new site where they move to. So it sometimes works out for the better. 

Nolan Doesken: And we've been around long enough that we have a few observers who I think have reported from at least four or five different states.

Emile Elias: Wow, that is amazing. And, this kind of leads to my next question. I like that sort of new way of getting people into the pipe right, related to moving. But this question is really about getting people into the pipe. And it's about something that's mentioned on the CoCoRaHS website, which is that one of your goals is providing enrichment activities in water and water resources for teachers, educators, and the community.

And so to me, that's like bringing people in at that early stage of life and getting them involved. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? 

Noah Newman: Yeah. So as Nolan mentioned earlier, CoCoRaHS started with, among high school students. And it even started with the idea of using schools and students who would be interested because that would be a good spatial set of data with, with some interested people.

But as the network grew, and of course just more regular folks who were not necessarily in the K-12 setting were involved, CoCoRaHS wanted to grow. And as I mentioned when I started, we were writing some grant proposals. And when you get federal funding from NOAA or NSF, they typically want you to have an education and outreach component to your project.

And so CoCoRaHS was actually always an education project as well as data collection and research. And with one of my jobs to recruit schools to CoCoRaHS, the notion would be to train teachers and the teacher would manage the rain gauge at their school, but a new cohort of students could come through and they could retrain the new students each year as they move through.

But, CoCoRaHS is not just an education program for K-12 students either. We have goals of education for the general public, and we will refer to that sometimes as climate literacy and the notion of getting people understanding, not just the day-to-day weather, but even their overall climate. And how do you learn about the climate?

You take weather observations every day. I'll tell a quick story that is something that happens to probably every CoCoRaHS observer who sets up a rain gauge and starts collecting data. And it's a learning experience, but you set it up and you wait for it to rain. And then of course it doesn't and you submit your first zero, which is fantastic, and you do it again.

And finally the day comes and you get a rainstorm and especially here in the Southwestern part of the United States, a local storm can come through and it is just dumping. It is pouring cats and dogs. There are puddles everywhere, and I am so excited. I bet I'm going to get out to my gauge, is there going to be a half an inch, maybe three quarters of an inch?

I mean, it was coming down! And then you go, you run out there after the storm and there's five hundredths. And that's it. And you wonder, is that, did I measure it right? Is it, real, but that's part of the education. That's part of the climate literacy that you start the first day you might not be a good guesser but over time, you watch that rainstorm out of your window and you start to think, oh, I bet you I've got about 15 hundredths. And you start to get better at that guessing game. And that's part of the fun, but you also then learn over a year's time how much, you know, my “quote unquote” average here in Colorado is 16 inches of liquid over the year. And as you experience that and measure that every day, you really start to at least in Colorado especially, you learn how dry the climate really is when you're getting little, little bits here and there. 

Henry Reges: And in addition to what Noah's saying too, we do have educational materials online. So we not only add, you know, we don't want to be an organization that just asks something, something from you, but we want to give back. And we actually just about two hours ago, we finished recording a live webinar. We do what's called Weather Talk webinars. We just finished our 76th one. And we go through all different types of different subjects on weather, meteorology.

We just did ours on the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire, home of the highest wind gust. And we have experts, they come on and they take questions from the audience and so forth. We not only have that, but we have a lot of great educational animations. And Noah has worked with the animator on those talking about drought, talking about snowfall, how to measure things.

And so there is kind of an education. You can, you can learn a lot from our website and the resources that we have out there for folks too. So that does help add to the climate literacy. 

Emile Elias: It seems like there are a lot of pathways to learn, learn via doing, as Noah was talking about, some really engaging webinars and videos. So that's great that you're supporting a lot of people in their learning about weather. And I'm curious because you have been doing this for a while. Nolan and Noah and Henry, you've been supporting the citizen science network for some time. And so I want to ask you to think back to the beginning when you first joined.

And did you envision that it would expand as much as it has, when you were first starting out? And we'll start with Henry on this question. 

Henry Reges: Yeah. Maybe you should ask Nolan. Cause I think, I think when he hired me, he was like, oh-oh, what have we gotten into? Hah.

Nolan Doesken: Yes. No, I had no idea. I thought maybe we'd do a little project for four or five years focused on the northern front range of Colorado and learn a few things about localized storms. I had no idea it was gonna take off. We did, when we were interviewing Henry, we did say, “Hmm, if we hire Henry, there's a reasonable chance this is going to be a national network”. Which was actually a scary thing for us because we had no idea how are you going to fund and support and maintain such a thing. But, that was, that was when we, when we got the idea that may actually have the potential to be national. 

Henry Reges: Then I started doing international stuff too. And that worried you as well. 

Nolan Doesken: Still does. 

Henry Reges: But we want to be altruistic. We want to, we, you know, we found a good thing and we want to share that with other places and other countries, other states and so forth. And so simple stuff can help provide. You know, internationally a lot of countries want to invest in big equipment and they don't maintain it.

And what happens there is some of those poorer countries don't have the resources, but if they can train and invest in volunteers and you know, some of it's been successful, some not so successful. That's one possible solution. I, from the beginning had hoped it would grow and still continue to hope it grows.

I mean, you know, the other thing is really filling in the gaps. There's a lot of spots that we still don't have observations and observers. And some places where it's, you know, out in the Southwest where nobody lives.  You know, we can't really recruit antelope and other animals, but there will always be gaps. But it's just fun to watch it, you know, in Canada they've embraced it.

And we see that continually grow, in the maritime provinces now and other parts of the country. And it's just exciting to see. You know, we're at about 21,000 I think observers if I remember that correctly. And we grow incrementally each year. And, so yeah it's again, it's just fascinating to watch it take off.

Nolan Doesken: The other thing that's been totally fascinating is all the friends and partners that we've made over these years. We can go to pretty much any city in the whole country and have a friend there who knows about us and who welcomes us in. It's just been just a wonderful sense of community that's emerged from backyard rain gauges. I never anticipated that at all. 

Noah Newman: And I think when I started, it felt like we really were already hitting the ground running with Henry on board and expanding state by state quite quickly. And so I always in the back of my mind just was hoping that we would continue the funding and keep on growing.

I think one of the things that I definitely did not anticipate when I started and as CoCoRaHS was still young, but here we are in all these 50 states and 21,000 volunteers, and we will still, well, probably about at least once a month or so you get an email from someone telling us that their spouse had just passed away and that they had been volunteering with us and that they wanted to let us know. And it hits you. And it's really amazing, you look at their data and gosh, they were submitting data for the last four years. Never missed a day and all the way up till the day that they passed away.

And we didn't anticipate that we'd be in the business of writing condolence letters. But at the same time, it's always heartwarming too when we get emails, not necessarily about  their spouse passing away, but telling us you gave my husband something to wake up for, you gave me something to do. And it's, there's a really neat feeling that we're, we're more than just collecting precipitation data, people who are volunteering in our network feel that they're contributing to something bigger than themselves and it's giving them something to do. And that's heartwarming to us. 

Henry Reges: And you know, I think Nolan has a lot to do with the connection with people as well. Nolan has from the beginning really, really, connected. He sends out a monthly newsletter and shares a lot of his heart and his stories. He has a farm story at the end of every newsletter that makes you feel like you know him. It does feel like the Prairie Home Companion where you know the town, and he does it in kind of the Jimmy Stewart type of style.

And that really resonates with a lot of folks and they feel they know us.  Of course we know a few, but not all 21,000. But Nolan, what do you, what do you say about that? 

Nolan Doesken: Well, I'll just say I'm just so pleased that we've been able to maintain a high element of huma.. I guess I'd say humanity.

We value each participant and somehow or other our help desk is able to answer all the questions. We have, I mean, we don't automate very much. We have as we automate where we can, but we have people who answer the phone. If somebody wants to call at any hour of the day or night, the chances are we'll be back in touch with them within, within just a few hours.

And so that's an element that I've marveled  that we've been able to maintain that through time. But I value that the humanity of, I mean, we really are a community and we really are collaborative and we really value humans and that's about the best I can word it at this point. 

Henry Reges: You know, we'll have, we'll have people show up and come to visit our office. And they’re all, you know, we're planning our trip. We want to see CoCoRaHS headquarters and I, thinking it's like the Weather Channel or something and they show up and it's like, well, yeah, here's one office and here's two other offices. And this is it. We've got a pretty small staff. You know, in a web presence, you think of a big organization and so forth. And we're quite small. We are. It's amazing what we can do with what we have. And I think that  you know, the public sees us as a lot larger than we really are. 

Nolan Doesken: We also have a network of volunteer leaders across the entire country.

Henry Reges: Yeah, that's true. We've got, so we break the U.S. down into regions. There are states, but each state has a region based on the Weather Service County warning areas. And we've got over 250 volunteer coordinators on that state and regional level. And those are the folks I work with, they keep the network humming.

 And then there's local county coordinators, but these different folks across the country, really we didn't even go into the talking about QC and stuff like that. They take care of that, they are our data quality, they recruit folks. We have a, talking about getting people on board every year, we have a contest called CoCoRaHS March Madness. We have a trophy like the Stanley Cup that people compete for. And that's been going on for about 12 years now and the coordinators really get into this. And I think we recruited close to 1300 people in March of this year. I forget the exact number, but it is something with a lot of pride and stuff that the coordinators do and they get the cup and they pass it around or in the state, it appears on TV and so forth.

It's a, I like to say it's a silver plated, sterling silver rain gauge. It's actually a plastic one we've put together and we sprayed it silver, with a base and so forth. And each year a little emblem gets put on that and it's, anyway. It's fun activities like that to get the coordinators motivated and get people involved.

We like to have a lot of fun too, you know? 

Emile Elias: I want to know who won! 

Henry Reges: So Minnesota ran away with it this year, for the second year in a row. We have two categories. We have the total number of people recruited and then we have per capita. So based this way, it gives smaller states a chance with less population. And Rhode Island  won for the second year in a row as well. So they win the per capita category, and Minnesota twice now in a row for the overall population. So, you can find out all that information on our website. We've got a list of past winners, people holding the trophy and so forth. And it's neat. Another one of our harebrained schemes, but they're fun. 

Sarah LeRoy: It sounds like a lot of fun and it sounds like people are really having a fun time doing it too.

So lastly, we wanted to ask about the future.  Where do you all see the network headed in the future? Do you know, what do you envision as next steps or goals? 

Henry Reges: We were thinking of trying to recruit people on the moon. No, I'm just kidding. 

Nolan Doesken: No, definitely maintaining this high touch community based network is really, if we can just keep it going and growing slowly and taking advantage of opportunities and making new friends along the way and converting as many beginner observers into longtime climate observers is certainly another goal.

And in fact, a fair number of the National Weather Service’s cooperative observers, which is their 130 year old network, are now recruited from CoCoRaHS. And so if we can continue to be the farm club for the National Weather Service, all the better. 

Noah Newman: I think in this day and age there's a lot of desire, or even assuming, that technology can be better than a manual instrument.

You can set up a rain gauge on your roof that's automated and have this assumption that it's giving you accurate data. But in truth, even the highest technology of a rain gauge can not, can most of the time, not beat the manual gauge and what really are human eyeballs when you actually have to look at it and can tell if there was a leaf that fell in and clogged the hole, for instance. You wouldn't know that if it's a computerized model that you spent thousands of dollars on that is the highest technology in the land.

It can still have problems. So I think my hope for the future of the network is the continuation of the trust in the manual rain gauge and it being of a higher priority in the meteorological world compared to automated data. 

Henry Reges: Yeah and I'll second that. And, also, you know, one thing is that we hope for the future to make improvements on our own website and so forth by making more interactive things for observers to learn more about climate, to get different age groups more involved, to help with recruiting, to make visualizations. We just came out with a new mapping system this past year.

And so that is, that is another hope as time goes along. That we can improve upon what we've created.  Always new ideas coming in, and open to that. And I know Nolan probably has one hope for the future for the network. And that is to finally recruit an observer in his hometown of Royal, Illinois.

So if somebody is listening to this from Royal, Illinois and you sign up, we'll send you a prize. But that has always been Nolan's, Nolan's hope. Right, Nolan? 

Nolan Doesken: That's for sure. 

Henry Reges: Yeah. Yeah. We had all these years, nobody, and that's just outside of Champaign-Urbana. But anyway, I throw that in there.

Emile Elias: We Tweet this out and when we Tweet it out, we're gonna tag the city and see if we can get somebody from there.

Henry Reges: Alright! That would be fantastic. 

Sarah LeRoy: I have some friends in Champaign-Urbana. So I will ask them, do they know anyone nearby? That's great. Well, thank you all very much for spending some time talking with us today about CoCoRaHS.

I've learned a lot and I hope that this gets even more people signed up to the network. Thank you very much. 

Nolan Doesken: Pleasure. 

Noah Newman: Thanks for having us. 

Emile Elias: Thanks for listening to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub

Sarah LeRoy: and the USGS Southwest CASC. If you liked this podcast, don't forget to rate or review it and subscribe for more great episodes. A special thanks to our production crew, Skye Aney and Reanna Burnett. If you want more information, have any questions for the speakers or would like to offer feedback, please reach out to us via our websites.