Spring Creek Flood Led to Colorado State’s Amateur Precipitation Monitoring Network

Note to Editors: A photo of Nolan Doesken and a fact box on the storm are available with the news release at http://newsinfo.colostate.edu/.

On July 28, 1997, six to 14 inches of rain fell across the western edge of Fort Collins from the south end of Horsetooth Reservoir to a point north of the small town of Laporte.

At the time, residents of other parts of the Fort Collins area were blissfully unaware of the danger caused by that amount of rainfall in such a short period. And the storm that brought it was not well detected by traditional weather observing methods.

Nolan Doesken, then assistant state climatologist and senior research associate for Colorado State University, came up with a simple but effective method of weather detection.

In the spring of 1998, he formed a network of volunteers – called the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) – to take daily measurements of rain, snow and hail using a simple rain gauge and foil-wrapped Styrofoam pads.

Today, CoCoRaHS has a national coordinator, Henry Reges, and major national reach with 4,500 active volunteers and several new states coming on board every year.

Volunteers are active in 19 states or regions: Alaska, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Expected to join within the next few months are Iowa, Florida, New York and North Carolina.

"CoCoRaHS is a source of tremendous pride for the university," said Bill Farland, vice president for Research at Colorado State University. "Nolan’s ongoing communication with amateur and professional weather watchers is an example of Colorado State’s commitment to outreach as part of its land-grant mission."

Through CoCoRaHS, volunteers document the size, intensity, duration and patterns of rain, hail and snow by taking simple measurements in their own backyards.

The process takes only five minutes a day, but the impact to the community is tenfold: Data gathered by volunteers provides important daily and long-term decision-making information on drought and water supply for agricultural, recreation, utility providers, resource managers, teachers, scientists and homeowners.

In April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration honored Doesken, now state climatologist at Colorado State University, as one of 10 "Environmental Heroes." In December 2006, NOAA’s Office of Education awarded CoCoRaHS an Environmental Literacy grant – the first ever awarded to a citizen science program – to make its first formal push to expand nationally.

"With Nolan’s engaging personality at the forefront, the CoCoRaHS network also serves to increase weather literacy among the people it contacts," John McLaughlin, education specialist with the NOAA Office of Education, said in his nomination letter for the "Environmental Hero" award. "Nolan’s passion and dedication for learning about weather is contagious and has fueled the growth of an outstanding partnership between NOAA and dedicated citizen scientists across the country."