Do you ever wish the weather forecasts were a little more accurate?

You can do something about that.


For my garden and for my general sense that attention should be paid, I have always kept a rain gauge. For a long time, I had a lovely, large glass cylinder encircled by an artistic and abstractly plant-like bit of wrought iron. Alas, it made sudden and unexpected acquaintance with a concrete-brick terrace. 

I replaced it with an unassuming little plastic gauge – continuing to marvel at the extent of recent torrential downpours and sharing my data with a few friends in a garden gossip sort of way.

But now Underhill House is going official.


We are joining a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers measuring and mapping precipitation – the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, affectionately called CoCoRaHS!  (pronounced KO-ko-rozz).

Now my rain records will be accessible to more than 100 organizations every day.  As part of a climate record, they’ll be used to create a 30-year average normal climate report. This report is used by engineers to design infrastructure – how big does that culvert under that bridge need to be?

I can also graph my own data and compare them to CoCoRaHS norms.

The network formed in 1998 – prompted by flood damage that had not been foreseen. Twenty years later, thousands of volunteers nationwide are helping make understanding and forecasting weather more accurate. There is a particular need in central and northern Wisconsin for more data.

The extra data points act like more pixels in a photo and help to give a clearer picture of what’s happening. (A capability that will be ever more crucial as our climate becomes more erratic.)


Michelle Margraf, CoCoRaHS meteorologist and coordinator, shows how much more detailed volunteer data makes weather maps at her presentation at  the Wisconsin Natural Resource Volunteers Summit.

Data collected by CoCoRaHS is used by the National Weather Service, other meteorologists, hydrologists, emergency managers, city utilities, insurance adjusters, USDA, mosquito control, ranchers and farmers.

I learned about CoCRaHS last Month at the Wisconsin Natural Resource Volunteers Summit in Eau Claire. This was a joint event of the University of Wisconsin – Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program and the Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network.

The Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program provides training and direction in how to get out there and help protect our state’s natural resources. Check out their website for a training program near you. (Interesting article in Isthmus recently on the program.)

The Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Program is another way to go. Anything outside that you are interested in or want to know more about is probably being monitored by citizen volunteers. Check them out. There is something there for everyone.

Over the course of several days, dozens of citizen science and other volunteer projects were showcased. It was like being a kid in a candy store. If you care about the environment, there are so many ways to get engaged.

I’m so excited to be part of CoCoRaHS. I have already learned some valuable things. Like the best place to put your rain gauge. (Being too close to the house was probably affecting our old gauge’s accuracy. )


Doug mounted our rain gauge in a great spot.

Finding the right place led to a lot of wandering around the yard, looking up and scratching of heads, differing ideas and finally joyful agreement to put it beside our compost bin, which is (conveniently) also visited just about every day.

Our CoCoRaHS-approved rain gauge is now at the ready to catch the next rain drops!

This is a very official-looking, yet basic, rain gauge that is reported to be more accurate than electronic versions. I’m so glad I didn’t succumb to my temptation to get an electronic home weather station when my artsy rain gauge shattered. 

Evidently not all rain gauges are created equal, and some of those electronic gauges can be off by as much as 25%. The Colorado Climate Center, after extensive experience, requires a specific manual rain gauge that sells for about $30.00 and can measure measure up to 11.2” of rainfall to capture high rain events. You’ll find it on the CoCoRaHS website.


Our first reading was 0.0. But according to the CoCoRaHS newsletter, that makes me a zero hero and points out that no precipitation is a significant part of the big picture too.





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