Iowa Needs More Volunteer Weather Observers

Iowa Needs More Volunteer Weather Observers

Iowa Department of Agriculture and the National Weather Service are recruiting volunteer precipitation observers.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship's State Climatology Office and the National Weather Service are recruiting volunteer precipitation observers across Iowa to participate in the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network, known as "CoCoRaHS."

All that is needed to participate is an interest in the weather, a 4-inch diameter rain gage, a suitable location to set up the gage and access to the Internet. All data collected are immediately available for free online and are routinely used for flood forecasting, drought assessment, news media stories, scientific research and general weather interest.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED: Volunteer weather observers, to keep a closer eye on precipitation across Iowa, are invited to join in and help. "The weather observations by this network are of great benefit in obtaining a clearer picture of Iowa's weather," says state climatologist Harry Hillaker.

More information about the network is on the CoCoRaHS web site. The website includes information on how to join, where to purchase your rain gage and how to accurately measure and report rain and snow. 

More observers needed to better document weather variability
The network was established by the Colorado Climate Center in 1998 and has now spread to all 50 states and Canada. Iowa joined this volunteer network in 2007 and now has over 300 registered CoCoRaHS observers across the state. However, more observers are needed to better document the amount and variability of rain and snow across Iowa. The need for additional observers is particularly critical in these counties: Adams, Allamakee, Audubon, Calhoun, Cedar, Davis, Delaware, Jefferson, Keokuk, Louisa, Lucas, Palo Alto, Pocahontas, Van Buren, Wapello, Wayne and Wright.

"In 2014 Iowa experienced a mostly wet year with record flooding in far northwest Iowa in June along with record high annual precipitation totals set at Denison and Greenfield, allowing current soil moisture levels to be the highest they have been for this time of year since 2011," says Harry Hillaker, state climatologist at the Iowa Department of Agriculture. "Whatever comes our way in 2015, the weather observations obtained by this network can be of great benefit in obtaining a clearer picture of Iowa's weather."


ISU agronomist helps NASA satellite measure soil moisture
In other news related to improving the accuracy and usefulness of information obtained about agricultural weather, Iowa State University released the following news report this week. It explains how an ISU agronomist is helping a NASA satellite that's orbiting the Earth measure soil moisture in farm fields in Iowa and across the globe.

It's up there right now, orbiting the Earth about 426 miles above the planet's surface. Its mechanical arm has extended, and it'll start to spin soon. This summer, NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite will begin tracking the moisture content of soil all over the world, laying groundwork for a better understanding of weather and climate, especially as they relate to flooding. And an ISU agronomist helped make it happen.

An Iowa State University agronomist helped make this happen
The SMAP satellite measures the moisture in soil by monitoring the microwave radiation emitted by the Earth's surface, says Brian Hornbuckle, an associate professor of agronomy. Wet soil emits less radiation than dry soil. 

The "active" capability hinted at in the satellite's name refers to the ability to emit its own radiation, which then bounces off the Earth's surface and is collected by the satellite's instrumentation. The feature, which previous satellites lacked, will yield richer data Hornbuckle has received three different research grants from NASA over the years and worked on similar satellites in the past, including the European Space Agency's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite, which launched in 2009.

We will see weather conditions that are more accurate and understanding of climate.

The technology is still developing in many ways, but it'll eventually have a big payoff, he says. "The benefits could be great for Iowans. When this kind of technology advances beyond the experimental stage into the operational stage, we'll see better predictions for weather and our understanding of climate. We'll have a better understanding of seasonal rainfall and flood prediction as well."

New satellite will gather data on finer detail than previous satellites
Launched on Jan. 31, the SMAP satellite spent its first few weeks in orbit running diagnostics to make sure everything is in working order. Last week, its mechanical arm extended for the first time. 


Hornbuckle says the new satellite will gather data on a much finer level than previous satellites. For instance, the older SMOS satellite took about one measurement per county in Iowa. The SMAP satellite will gather measurements down to the township level. Part of Hornbuckle's job will be to keep the satellite honest by validating the data collected by SMAP. The new satellite is programmed to make assumptions about cover vegetation during Iowa's growing season that may introduce some errors into the data. Hornbuckle and his team will compare the satellite's findings to actual soil moisture at an experiment site near Eldora in north-central Iowa.  

"We don't always have a good understanding of how water moves between the surface and the atmosphere," Hornbuckle says. "We're just kind of making guesses right now. But satellites like this will help us to fill in those blanks and gain a more accurate understanding of weather and climate."

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