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Weather watchers wanted: Nationwide network seeks volunteers to track rain, snow

Mark Uselman stands by his collection cylinder and holds a graduate that he uses to measure precipitation data at his home in north Fargo.David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — Every day, Mark Uselman records the precipitation that lands in his backyard. The north Fargo resident has made observing the weather part of his daily routine for over five years now.

He wakes up at 6:30 a.m., does the crossword, has coffee with his wife then goes outside to check the rain or snow gauge, and she goes to teach elementary school.

"I measure the precipitation, snowfall, and the cumulative snowfall that's left on the ground as it sets," Uselman said. "I catch the snow, bring it inside to melt, then measure the liquid form."

More volunteers like Uselman are needed in North Dakota to record precipitation data. Like every other state, data recorded by volunteers is crucial to accurately predict weather hazards like floods and droughts.

Farmers and weather forecasters also rely on the information that has been submitted to the nationwide citizen science network called the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS. The network recruits weather observers who measure rainfall, snowfall and snow depth right from home.

Mark Uselman got involved because of state climatologist Adnan Akyuz, a professor at North Dakota State University, who was teaching students at Kennedy Elementary where Uselman's wife teaches. Uselman and his wife quickly took an interest in weather observing.

North Dakota has more than 300 observers already, but Akyuz said it's not nearly enough.

"We need precipitation data this spring more than ever to better assess the likelihood of the 2017 drought extending into 2018 and the chance for spring flooding in the Red River Valley," Akyuz said.

He said the only requirements to become a weather observer and citizen scientist are that you have an interest in weather and a cylindrical rain gauge.

The data collected is used for water resource planning, severe storm warnings, teaching Earth science, predicting crop yields and assessing hail damage.

Fifteen thousand volunteers all over the nation check their rain or snow gauges about 7 a.m. and enter the data into the CoCoRaHS Network website. Akyuz said it only takes about five minutes.

"This opportunity gives them a chance to become a part of climate history," he said.

Akyuz said the network would like to see more volunteers in North Dakota recording snowfall, both in urban and rural areas.

Compared with other states, North Dakota recruited the most weather observers per capita in 2010, 2012 and 2015. Akyuz hopes to achieve that feat again this month, as part of the March Madness competition the CoCoRaHS Network hosts.

To register as a volunteer, go to www.cocorahs.org and click "Join CoCoRaHS."

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