Learn how input from “citizen scientists” is increasing our understanding and monitoring of weather and climate in the Carolinas.  The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow (CoCoRaHS) employs volunteers to gather much needed monitoring data on conditions throughout the Carolinas.

Drought can be a tricky thing to measure and monitor. If close attention isn’t given to the amount of rain that has fallen, drying conditions can creep into an area quickly. This is especially true during hot summer months, when evaporation levels are high. On the other hand, sometimes drought can be a much slower moving occurrence that lingers over many years, such as the historic drought of record from 1998-2002 in the Carolinas.

And the impacts of drought can be quite varied. From drying soils that require additional watering for crops or backyard gardens, to low water levels that might affect tourism businesses such as rafting on the Nantahala, to public health impacts such as degraded air quality caused by smoke from wildfires, there are many ways that drought can impact the lives of Carolinians.

In an effort to improve drought monitoring and the reporting of drought impacts, the Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments (CISA) research team is working with citizen scientists to document the impacts of rain, or a lack thereof, in the Carolinas. Volunteers who are part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network submit daily rainfall measurements. Once a week they also share written descriptions, called condition monitoring reports, about how the rain they have, or have not, received has affected their environment and community. These reports are then used by many different types of agencies and organizations who monitor weather and climate such as the NC Drought Management Advisory Council.

Because volunteers submit weekly reports, they are able to document change over time, whether it is caused by a change in seasons or specific weather events.

Although the project was designed to better document drought, observers are also providing valuable information about the impacts of extreme weather events such as the October 2015 flooding in South Carolina, Hurricane Matthew which hit the Carolina coastline in the fall of 2016, and snow and ice storms during winter months.

The CISA team has developed an online web map where condition monitoring reports are displayed on a map of the Carolinas and in conjunction with other contextual information such as the current US Drought Monitor map. Map users can easily see where conditions are wet or dry based on symbols representing the observers’ reports. Reports are available from the current day back to September 2013, when the project began.

With limited opportunities to see the impacts of the weather conditions that different agencies and organizations must monitor in order to manage their operations, these observers are doing the very important work of ground-truthing what other types of technical information tells us.

Interested in learning more? Check out the project webpage at www.cisa.sc.edu/CoCoRaHS.html.

Interested in becoming a volunteer? Contact Amanda Farris at afarris@sc.edu.

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