LIHUE — In 1997, a devastating flash flood hit Fort Collins, Colorado, killing five people and causing $200 million in damages.
In response, a volunteer organization was born with the goal of doing a better job of mapping and reporting intense storms.
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS, is a nonprofit, nationwide network of volunteers who take and report daily measurements of rain, hail and snow in their backyards.
And Kauai is looking to build up its local chapter.
“CoCoRaHS is something that came out as a need to start getting information, that’s blossomed and huge, and now there’s thousands of observers out there doing this across the Mainland in particular,” said Shawn Dahl, the Kauai regional coordinator for the National Weather Service. “And now it’s starting to grow here.”
On Kauai, there are nine stations. However, more are needed, and Dahl has begun recruiting additional volunteers — children, the elderly, or anyone else with an enthusiasm for observing and reporting weather conditions.
While it takes only a few minutes each day, Dahl said the importance of the data, which is used by an array of organizations and individuals, cannot be stressed enough, especially given Kauai’s varying patterns of precipitation.
“Reports of hail (and yes, we do get the rare occasion of hail here in Hawaii) or heavy rain may trigger the NWS to issue severe thunderstorm or flash flood warnings,” he wrote in an email. “In cases of extreme localized storms, your local report could help save lives.”
Among the handful of CoCoRaHS volunteers on Kauai is Kapaa resident Randy Blake. Each morning, he checks the clear, plastic rain gauge in his backyard and reports what he finds. If the gauge is empty, Blake reports a zero, which Dahl said is just as important as any rainfall total.
“It really is kind of neat that as an ordinary citizen you can actually start to contribute data that is going into the big climate picture,” Blake said.
Dahl and Blake said the more volunteers the better, but that their goal is to get between 20 and 25 stations around the island.
“As this system grows, this data is going to become more available and more people are going to be using it,” Blake said.
In addition to weather forecasters and hydrologists, the CoCoRaHS data is used by water providers and managers, researchers, agricultural entities, climatologists, the insurance industry, engineers, fishermen and many others, according to Dahl.
“They’re doing it for not only their own interest, but all these people benefit,” he said of volunteers.
Dahl and Blake said they not only need volunteers willing to purchase their own gauges, but also donations that would allow them to purchase equipment for those who may not be able to afford them. The cost is $40 each.
Each CoCoRaHS observer will receive training on how to install their rain gauge, properly measure precipitation and send in reports. The network also offers learning opportunities, including periodic emails and newsletters to inform participants about how the data is used in meteorology, hydrology and other fields.
For more information about CoCoRaHS, visit www.cocorahs.org or contact Kauai Region Coordinator Shawn Dahl at 245-2420.