Amateur Weather Watchers Help the Pros Improve Forecasts

Two news reports highlight the way volunteers monitor our own planet in ways that help professional weather forecasters and make life better for all of us.

SkyWarn Sees Invisible Weather

Highlands Today wrote about volunteers in Sebring, Florida, who help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service see storms that don't show up on weather radar.

The SkyWarn program relies on volunteers to help professional meteorologists see what's happening inside the blind spots of their weather radars. Every radar has a blind spot that starts at the height of the tower. It grows the farther the signal travels thanks to Earth's curvature. The nearest NWS weather radar to the town of Sebring is in Tampa - 153 kilometers (95 miles) away. At that distance, the radar’s blind spot reaches more than 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) above the ground. A lot of weather happens inside a blind spot that big.

The SkyWarn volunteers - many of them amateur radio enthusiasts - report severe thunderstorms, hail, and tornados to the NWS in Tampa so its meteorologists can issue warnings to the broader public.

CoCoRahs Reports Weather Where it Happens

The Nixa Xpress ran a story about CoCoRahs volunteers in Missouri whose daily reports on snow, rain, and hail give meteorologists and climate researchers valuable data on the local conditions.

The NWS has weather stations that record official rainfall levels. Most of these are at major airports and are widely separated. Weather happens on a much more local level than that - the weather station may report no rainfall when a community a short distance away experiences an intense downpour.

CoCoRahs is an all-volunteer program in the United States and Canada that produces more detailed data on rainfall levels. That data gets used to improve flood and drought forecasts and to study the effect of local geography on weather patterns. Missouri climatologist Pat Guinan told the Nixa Xpress that CoCoRahs “can benefit everyone. We even have school classes that take part in reporting. It’s a fun way to get kids into studying weather and learning about science.”