Today you punch a few buttons and have radar on your screen. But that still doesn't tell you exactly how much it rained and where once the storm has passed. Various people are trying to develop commercial services that do that job with the help of radar and algorithms, and bypass rain gauges, some with more success than others.
Fifteen years ago last week the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network was launched. It became known as Cocorahs. You can learn more and see daily reports of precipitation from volunteers all over the country by visiting www.cocorahs.com.
The effort started as a direct response to flash flooding in Fort Collins, Colo., in 1997. Nolan Doesken at Colorado State University was behind the idea, but he said it took lots of volunteers, many of them high school students to get it off the ground. Remember that in 1997, there weren't that many people even using the Internet.
Today there are about 10,000 reporters who voluntarily file reports. The day we checked for rain reports last week nearly 9,000 volunteers had reported. Indiana is saturated with reporters. Since light rain fell over parts of the state the day we checked, we got a good picture of where it rained and where it didn't rain.
That information can become more valuable as pocket droughts develop during the summer. It happens almost every year, except last year, when the whole state was in drought with pocket "good spots." The scenario was tracked by the U.S. Weather Service and reflected on the Palmer Drought Index, but it also was obvious to anyone following the Cocorahs network.
Doesken would like to reach 12,000 reporters this year. If you want to participate as a volunteer reporter, check out the Website for details. It's relatively easy to get started. It can be tougher to get in the habit of filing reports. But when enough people do, it creates valuable information everybody can use.