Colorado State University Volunteer Precipitation Network Honored with National Land-Grant Organization Award

Note to Reporters: A photo of Nolan Doesken is available with the news release at

Data collected by national volunteers through Colorado State University has helped predict flooding on the Missouri River, track the movement of West Nile Virus across the country and verify satellite data on crop health, among other things.

That volunteer research program, now boasting 15,000 volunteers in all 50 states and Canada, has been honored with a major national award from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, known as APLU.

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, also known as CoCoRaHS, has won APLU’s West region award and will compete for a national title in Denver in November.

In its news release announcing the winners, APLU official said of CoCoRaHS, “Its unique approach to data collection and research has made it one of the most innovative citizen science programs in the nation.”

Nolan Doesken, founder of the program and state climatologist based in Colorado State’s Department of Atmospheric Science, created the program in 1997 after a devastating flood hit the Fort Collins region and scientists struggled to get accurate precipitation levels across town. Doesken and his team have built the program from a Colorado program into 15,000 volunteers nationally.

The program expanded this spring into Manitoba, Canada. The CoCoRaHS website draws an average of 17,000 unique visitors per day viewing 100,000 pages. On a daily basis, the site draws more than 350 requests for information from educational and research institutions.

CoCoRaHS was nominated by Lou Swanson, Vice President for Engagement at Colorado State.

“CoCoRaHS has been a tremendous outreach effort for Colorado State, not only within Colorado but across the nation, illustrating the true community service land-grant universities provide,” Swanson said. “People love weather and weather stories and this unique program allows them to be part of critical data collection that assists meteorologists and climate scientists around the nation.

“The success of this program embodies CSU’s land-grant mission of Teaching, Research, Service, and Extension,’” Swanson said. “And it’s so simple – merely putting a rain gauge in your backyard and reporting the data on a daily basis – that people of all ages can get involved.”

Ages of participants range from kindergarteners to people in their 90s, Doesken said.

“In addition to the general public, we’re now working with water utilities, school districts, conservation districts, Extension offices, dozens of universities nationwide, the National Weather Service, the National Climatic Data Center, the USDA and other federal and state agencies – all because of a common denominator of the importance of accurately tracking precipitation,” he said. “It affects all of us.”

As part of a recent grant from the National Science Foundation, CoCoRaHS is working to add a younger, more diverse group of participants by recruiting schools. CoCoRaHS is developing a pilot program to give a rain gauge to every school in the Colorado and train teachers on how to report the data. Lesson plans and activities that meet both state and national standards for science – including math and geography – are being created and offered to participating classrooms.

In addition to NSF, financial support for CoCoRaHS has also come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA.

APLU honors a handful of regional award winners each year. Colorado State is the only university in the Western region to be honored with the C. Peter Magrath University/Community Engagement & The Outreach Scholarship W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award. Other finalists from the Western region were from the University of Idaho, the University of Nevada and the University of Oregon.

Winners of the awards come from five categories—South, Northeast, North Central, West and the 1890 university community. Each receives a cash prize and moves on to compete for the C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award during the National Outreach Scholarship Conference at the University of Alabama at the end of September. The national winner will be announced during the 125th APLU annual meeting Nov. 11-13 in Denver.

The C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award, made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, includes $20,000 and a trophy. The award is named for C. Peter Magrath, president of NASULGC, now APLU, from 1992 to 2005. During his tenure, Magrath was a leading advocate for public universities embracing the concept of outreach and community engagement.