Weather nuts unite: Here’s your gauge|[08/13/2008]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The steady rain and variable winds over the past three days have given longtime friends and self-described “weather nuts” Bill Ford and Brent Lamb a lot to talk about. For years, the two have compared Vicksburg rain gauge readings at their homes – which are about 5 miles apart – and are often surprised at the difference.

“Especially in the summer, it’s not uncommon for one of us to have an inch more than the other,” said Ford. “We’ve been watching our rain gauges for years, but we’ve never had a place to compile the data to see the big picture. Now we do.”

On Aug. 1, Mississippi became the 32nd state to join the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network – also known as Cocorahs – an on-line weather database where people such as Ford and Lamb compile and share the rainfall amounts with the world. Thus far, however, Ford and Lamb are the only two participants in Warren County, and they’re encouraging more people to join the network.

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“I know there has got to be more weather nuts out there. We’re hoping to get as many signed up as possible,” said Ford.

Being a Cocorahs observer does not require a lot of time or expense, said Ford. A standard rain gauge can be purchased on the Cocorahs Web site for less than $30, and the daily reporting takes just a minute or two.

The nonprofit, community-based network was created at the University of Colorado in 1998 after heavy flooding in the nearby Fort Collins area caught many residents by surprise due to a misleading official rain gauge.

“They were receiving lots of rainfall – 10 to 15 inches – in the foothills, but nothing in the gauge in town,” said Marty Pope,who is senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Jackson and who serves as Cocorahs regional director. “They realized they needed more complete data, especially in those areas prone to flooding.”

In Vicksburg, the official National Weather Service gauge is located at the Vicksburg Water Treatment Plant on Haining Road at the Port of Vicksburg. Readings at the one gauge there are reported by City of Vicksburg employees and are what go into record books even though rainfall amounts may vary widely across Warren County’s 597 square miles.

Since being founded, Cocorahs has expanded to include 11,000 observers across 32 states. California and North Dakota are expected to join the network this year. Mississippi has had 67 observers sign up since Cocorahs launched at the start of the month, however, none in Claiborne, Issaquena, Sharkey or Yazoo counties is currently reporting. Nor are there any observers in the Louisiana parishes immediately across the Mississippi River from Vicksburg and surrounding areas.

Beyond being merely interesting to many weather fanatics, Pope said compiling the various rainfall amounts has many practical applications.

“It helps the National Weather Service gather more data to do weather forecasting and river forecasting. It’s also helpful to farmers, contractors, the Corps of Engineers and many other people,” he said. “We could definitely use as much support in Northeast Louisiana, Vicksburg and the surrounding areas.”

To participateLog onto and click on the ‘join cocorahs’ link. There is no fee, however, participants must purchase a rain gauge for $22 (plus shipping and handling), and make reports on rainfall online each morning. There is a brief training slide show available to ensure participants are reading and reporting their gauges correctly.By the numbersRainfall recorded in Vicksburg since Sunday at the official Vicksburg gauge at the water treatment facility on Haining Road, Bill Ford’s home on Honeysuckle Lane and Brent Lamb’s home on Rhodes Drive. Measurements are made at 7 a.m. and reflect total rainfall in inches over the previous 24 hours.Haining RoadHoneysuckle LaneRhodes DriveMonday……………3.30………………3.72………….2.35