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Why measure rainfall when there's been no rain?

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Pictured: Photo by Carolyn B. Edwards
CoCoRaHS volunteer Gene Riley faithfully measures precipitation and evaporation daily at his location just off of SH 16 near Bear Creek Road. He's displaying a photo of his evaporation gauge.

There have been very few raindrops falling on his head during the past few years, but Gene Riley faithfully records the daily amount of zero. Riley has been a dedicated volunteer for CoCoRaHs (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network) since 2007. That's a little over 2,500 trips down the path to his official rain gauge at 7 am!
According to the CoCoRaHS website, the project is "a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities." The network has volunteers in every state and in some provinces of Canada where the program is growing.
The network has 47 volunteers in Bandera County, said Riley, and 39 of them regularly post their data to the website. There are currently 20,000 volunteers nationwide and 4,200 in Texas. That means that Bandera County has over one percent of the state's volunteers!
CoCoRaHS volunteers use low-cost measurement tools after receiving training and education. The network aims "to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications" through the website.
Anyone who enjoys watching and reporting weather conditions and has a desire to learn more about how weather can affect and impact lives can become a volunteer.
The network's web page provides the ability for observers to see their observations mapped out in "real time," as well as providing a wealth of information for a variety of data users. Those users include the National Weather Service, meteorologists and universities, among others.
For more information, or to sign-up as a volunteer observer and become part of this expanding network, go to the CoCoRaHS website.
"When there's very little rainfall, it can get a little boring," said Riley. "But the fact that it is zero is still significant." A long dry spell can make a difference in expected run-off. Collecting long-term precipitation data can help the weather service determine when to issue flash flood warnings, said Riley.
The ability to make better predictions of flash flooding is why Riley has begun measuring evaporation as well. "Evaporation depends on the amount of moisture in the ground," he said. "What comes down must go up!" He is one of only seven volunteers in Texas who have the gauges to measure evaporation. "The equipment is more expensive than the precipitation gauge," explained Riley. The rain and evaporation gauges are purchased through CoCoRaHS.
Keeping track of the data stream that he collects appeals to Riley's accountant's mindset.
He became interested in CoCoRaHS after reading an article in San Antonio's Express News. "I have a good friend who is a professor of geography and meteorology at Texas State University," said Riley. "He and I are both golf tournament referees and he encouraged me to become involved."
Riley has been a referee for 11 years and currently serves on the USGA Regional Affairs Committee, "so golf keeps me busy."
Through the years, he has done state, national and international tournaments and has been selected to go to the World International Women's Team Championships and Men's Team Championships in Japan in September.
Refereeing an international match can be interesting, Riley admitted. "Many of the players speak English, but sometimes I have to explain the violation in sign language," he said.
When he's out of town, Riley's wife, Casey, makes that trek to the rain gauge to record yet another zero. It is acceptable for a volunteer to miss sending in the daily report for several days, if necessary.
Riley has been named the Bandera County coordinator for CoCoRaHS and he encourages more residents to check out the organization's website and consider volunteering. "It's important to report rainfall and to report from multiple locations. More data leads to better forecasting."