The Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University is concluding a rain and hail research project carried out by school children and adult volunteers across the community.
The Colorado Collaborative Rain and Hail Study, or COCORaHaS, gave children and adult weather enthusiasts an opportunity to learn about weather while providing scientists with valuable data. More than 100 volunteers, including students from 37 area schools, measured rain and hail from their homes and reported data to the Colorado Climate Center this summer.
"This project documented some surprising weather patterns," said Nolan Doesken, researcher at Colorado State and assistant state climatologist. "We all know that summer rains and hail are highly variable, but our data showed it even more dramatically than we expected. For example, for the month of July, the west side of Fort Collins received nearly four times as much rain as the east side. Farther north, one storm dropped three inches of rain and pounding hail near Wellington while most areas nearby received little or nothing.
Doesken said it was also interesting to discover that in what seemed to be a hot and dry summer, it rained on more than half the days during the month of June through mid-August. However, he said most of the summer’s total rainfall came from just four or five storms.
Each time a rain or hail storm crossed the area this summer, volunteers took measurements with rain gauges or special pads that measure hail stone impact. Participants entered their data over the internet or called in reports to the Colorado Climate Center every day._Special computer programs written by student participants were used to process data and automatically update maps showing rainfall patterns. Scientists are studying these maps to learn how storms developed and moved across the region.
"Our volunteers gave us data from many points across Fort Collins and surrounding areas," said Doesken. "This has allowed us to measure the size, intensity, duration and paths of summer rain and hail storms in more detail than ever before. These volunteers have made a significant contribution to scientific research. "
Several other groups are benefiting from the project. Colorado State’s Chill Radar Lab plans to use project data in current research to improve radar estimates of rainfall and detection of hail. The city of Fort Collins Utilities are using the data to analyze local patterns of water demand and better manage water supplies. Insurance companies are looking at how these data could help them better understand patterns of damaging weather.
The research team, including volunteers and their families, professional weather experts and high-school interns, will gather at City Park for a picnic Aug. 18 from 6-8 p.m. The event will include contests and displays of the group’s data. The picnic will be the last project activity for participants. Other activities included field trips and seminars on severe weather and other natural hazards.
Project sponsors included: Colorado Office of Emergency Management, State Hazard Mitigation Program and the Colorado Natural Hazards Mitigation Council; City of Fort Collins Utilities, Water and Storm Water; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service; Colorado State University CHILL Radar Laboratory; Poudre School District, Professional and Community Experience Program and the Rocky Mountain High School Science Department; Mountain States Weather Services; City of Fort Collins Office of Emergency Management; and the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station at Colorado State University.
Next summer, organizers hope to expand the project into the Denver area and also expand the educational opportunities for participants. Data gathered from the project can be found on the internet at ccc.atmos.colostate.edu. For more information about the project, call Doesken at (970) 491-8545.