UPPER DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP — Lynn Maun heads outside her home each and every morning to a green post she has in the ground.
She carefully studies the shoulder-high rain gauge attached to it to see how much has fallen in the past 24 hours. She records the observation and submits it online.
For Maun, being a Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) observer is about being part of nature.
“It’s an easy connection to the environment,” said Maun, who has been with the program since it began in New Jersey in 2008.
CoCoRaHS is a nationwide network of volunteers who report precipitation measurements from their home, school or place of work. The data are used by the National Weather Service to evaluate flooding, helpful for snow cleanup billing, studied by mosquito control commissions and evaluated by the National Drought Center to determine areas of drought, according to Dave Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist and the New Jersey state coordinator of CoCoRaHS.
The organization was started in Colorado in 1998 by Nolan Doesken. It grew to the High Plains after a grant was given and then spread to the entire United States. By 2018, it became an international program, with observers in Canada and the Bahamas.
“It’s one of the most successful citizen-science programs in the nation. Central headquarters doesn’t even have five full-timers,” Robinson said of the 15,000-member program.
CoCoRaHS is looking for a few South Jersey weather geeks to sign up. According to Robinson, there are about 300 volunteers statewide; 100 of those report almost every day. However, in The Press’ coverage area, only 15 observers reported their precipitation totals last Monday.
“I’d like to see a couple dozen people sign up. We could use some people in the Pinelands, too, for fire danger,” he said.
Enjoyment in seeing what the weather brings to their backyard is enough of a reason for many volunteer observers to take up the cause.
“For me, there’s something about knowing exactly what happened with the weather where I live. Oftentimes you’ll hear, ‘it felt like over a foot (of snow),’ but I enjoy taking some time during a winter storm or after a big rainfall to measure how much precipitation actually accumulated,” said Sam DeAlba, a CoCoRaHS observer from Lake Hopatcong in North Jersey.
“It’s one thing to expect ... but to actually see the rain and snow falling outside my window and then to physically measure it truly gives me a greater appreciation for rain and snowfall totals,” said Christina Speciale, a CoCoRaHS observer in East Brunswick, N.J. and Albany, N.Y.
Prospective observers can complete an application at cocorahs.org/Application.aspx. Volunteers need to buy a professional rain gauge, which can be purchased through a CoCoRaHS-approved vendor for less than $35. Once purchased, the gauge can be mounted on a post, a 2x4 or a mailbox. The gauge should be positioned where it is free of trees, shrubs or structures.
“Make a ‘Y’ with your arms and do a 360-degree turn in the sky. If you can look up and not have any obstructions, you can put it right there,” Robinson said.
Measurements are taken once a day at the same time each day, and there is no obligation to report each day. Reporting can be done online or through the CoCoRaHS app.
“People go on vacations, schools have summers off, people are nervous to go out in the winter, some are at the shore in their second home during the summer,” Robinson said.
There is no age requirement. Training requires going through a few slide-shows or videos.
The data is logged and saved in historical databases, such as the National Climate Center.
“In 2011, New Jersey was the first state in the country that had a CoCoRaHS rain gauge station used to create a statewide record,” Robinson said.
Today, I want to shine a light on a few different ways meteorologists are there for you.
In that year, West Milford in Passaic County was deluged with 90.65 inches of rain. Significant rainfall was also measured that year in South Jersey.
“I recorded 11 inches of rain in a 24-hour period in 2011 when the dams broke in Sunset Lake and Seeley Lake,” Maun said.
Even mundane weather, though, is enough to make Maun return to that green post each and every day.
“You put the information in and you can look at your neighboring towns to see what they had. You can get excited about it,” Maun said.