Monitoring the drought last year was problematic for North Dakota particularly in the west, where weather stations are few and far between.
The state’s climatologist, Adnan Akyuz, is hoping to improve the accuracy of the picture this year by recruiting rain watchers across the state to contribute to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, referred to as CoCoRaHS. The national network is looking for citizen scientists to volunteer for rain and snow reporting in North Dakota.
Akyuz said he knows many of the area’s farmers already keep tabs on rainfall.
“My father-in-law, for example, he always recorded the weather and put it on a calendar,” Akyuz said. “But then at the end of the year, the calendars are lost or they get tossed in the trash can and the climate record is then in the trash can, too.”
If those individuals would instead volunteer to submit their rain record to the CoCoRaHS network, the state would have a more complete climate record, which would also help the state keep better tabs on drought and flooding issues.
“CoCoRaHS is for these folks who already have some enthusiasm for recording weather in their region,” Akyuz said, “but this will archive the data for them free this way.”
The observation takes only about five minutes from start to finish.
“It takes two minutes to look at the rain gauge and then go back inside the house and report, so the total investment is less than five minutes for these folks,” Akyuz said.
The state has training materials for those who want to become observers as well.
“All you need is an interest in the weather to participate in the program, and a cylindrical rain gauge,” Akyuz said.
More rain observers would particularly help out west, where there are large gaps between weather stations, Akyuz noted. Precipitation can vary dramatically in the gaps between weather stations.
Williams County presently has just 12 volunteer observers.
“In the Williston area, the volunteers are concentrated where people are most crowded, of course,” Akyuz said, “But we need more participation in the countryside, so we can fill in the gaps of low or high precipitation.”
Having weather observers in the countryside would help present a clearer picture in drought situations like the one in 2017.
“We had one of the worst droughts in state history,” Akyuz said. “Sometimes we represented the western area well, and sometimes we couldn’t, and it’s just because we didn’t know how much precipitation fell in the region. This will help us understand the intensity of the drought and assess it better. And during flood years, we’ll be much better able to assess flood potential.”
Akyuz believes the data could also be helpful to farmers who were having problems getting rain insurance payments as well. Data for rain insurance was lacking, which meant many farmers didn’t get paid, despite being in the middle of one of the worst droughts in state history. The CoCoRaHs data could help farmers present a more reliable picture of what is happening and make the case that a payment should be made.
The data will also be useful in normal periods of precipitation, as well, Akyuz added.
“It will help scientists such as myself looking at precipitation gaps,” Akyuz said, “and it is going to become the climate record of the state. The more data we can get the better.”