BISMARCK The need for more trained weather observers was evident during 2011. Getting a completely accurate picture of rainfall and runoff was compromised somewhat by a lack of reliable information throughout the Souris and Des Lacs River drainages.
Rainfall data collected in the field is an important part of the information used by the National Weather Service's River Forecast Center to predict influences on river levels.
While the NWS has hundreds of trained weather spotters who report rainfall totals in a timely manner, rain events sometimes occur in areas where spotters might not be located. For instance, a spotter might accurately report an inch of rain in a rain gauge at his location, but much heavier rain may have fallen a mile or so away and was not reported. That means the NWS, despite modern technology, may not get a complete picture of the total amount of moisture in a rainstorm.
"We do a lot of assuming. We get a report here and there and interpolate in between and most of the time that's not the right answer," said John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist, Bismarck NWS. "With all our fancy equipment we still need what's called the 'ground truth,' what actually fell in your rain gauge."
A growing problem for the NWS has been replacing long-time weather observers who are retiring from the task, mostly rural residents who are leaving the farm or ranch.
"That's the thing," said Martin. "Some cooperative observers have been doing it for 40 or 50 years and it's a challenge to find people to do it when they give it up. We could use people on the farm or ranch to become weather spotters for us. Reports they supply can play a big role in what the river could do."
Weather observers are asked to submit other information too, such as reports of hail or wind damage. The program, called SkyWarn, encourages volunteers to lend a helping hand while becoming a trained weather observer. A SkyWarn training session is scheduled to be held in Minot May 1 at 7 p.m. in the third floor conference room of the Minot State University Student Union.
"We are really looking for those who will report severe weather," said Martin. "We hope it becomes a thing of pride, but you are really helping your neighbor. People will come to you because you'll have an accurate, reliable rain gauge and maybe even temperature equipment."
This year the NWS has partnered with the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS. Volunteers of all ages are needed to measure and report precipitation amounts.
In a release from Tony Merriman, lead meteorologist, Bismarck NWS, the goal of CoCoRaHS is "to provide the highest quality precipitation date for natural resources, education, and research applications. Your information will help hydrologists make better river forecasts, assist researchers with assessing drought intensity and help the National Weather Service with severe weather warnings."
Anyone interested in becoming a CoCoRaHS observer is asked to contact Merriman at 250-4452.