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Now Every Utahn Can Be a Weatherperson

June 30, 2008

By Lindsay Whitehurst, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jun. 30–Utahns sick of rain when the weather man predicts sun might soon be able to do something about it.

The Utah Climate Center is looking for volunteers to measure rain and snowfall in their backyards. The data they collect will be used to fine-tune weather prediction models.

“We have a lack of data in our state and throughout the country,” said Esmaiel Malek, coordinator for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Program. “We do have some official weather stations but not enough to report the precipitation.”

Through the program, volunteers can register online, take a training session if possible, buy a rain gauge for about $22 and measure the rain and snow that it catches. Then, they can submit their figures over the Internet or by telephone. More information is available online at www.cocorahs.org.

The weather data will be used to test the accuracy of prediction models and to predict the amount of rainfall for a given location.

Utah is the second-driest state in the nation and gets most of its precipitation from snow in the winter, said state climatologist Robert Gillies.

What does fall in the summer usually comes in thunderstorms, which are very unpredictable and can be dangerous.

“Thunderstorms can cause flash floods, and that’s where this project could become very useful,” Gillies said.

A deadly 1997 flash flood in Fort Collins, Colo., inspired the project. Climatologists did not predict it, in part because they didn’t have all the data they needed, and couldn’t warn people in time.

The program is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, along with other, smaller research stations and the Cooperative Extension.

More than 30 states already participate in the program, and 9,000 people volunteer. In Utah, scientists particularly want people in rural areas to volunteer, where data is most scarce and people can be the most suspectable to flash floods.

The program’s long-term goal is to recruit one volunteer per square mile in cities and one volunteer per 36 square miles in rural areas.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

More online

For more information or to volunteer, visit www.cocorahs.org

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