Power in Numbers

Dr. Bill Deutsch, AWW Director

Almost four years ago, I joined thousands of volunteers across the U.S. who monitor precipitation through a group called the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS, at www.cocorahs.org). Similar to our AWW network of monitors, we all use standardized equipment, similar sampling protocols and have an online database to enter, analyze, store and share the data.  I ritually check my rain gage at 7 am most days and report the information online under my unique site code: AL-LE-7.  You can see daily precipitation data for Alabama or by county via their website that includes my “data dot” on the map in west Lee County (color coded for precipitation amounts).

CoCoRaHS rain gauge

I know that at least a couple of other AWW monitors are also part of CoCoRaHS, and I encourage you to take advantage of this information and perhaps get involved as a precipitation monitor.  Of course, rainfall is closely tied to stream flow, pond and reservoir levels, turbidity, E. coli concentrations, and virtually every other variable that AWW volunteers test for.  Looking at AWW and CoCoRaHS data together is a great way to understand more about the big picture of the hydrologic cycle, watersheds and environmental quality.

6,649 precipitation reports received on 2/19/2013

When you access the national map from the cocorahs.org website and click on Alabama to enlarge the state map, two things become apparent. One is that the number of monitoring sites from volunteers greatly exceeds the number of airport weather stations and other precipitation monitoring sites of government agencies, contributing much more information to understand rainfall patterns more precisely.  Secondly, when individual sites are pooled and presented together, a wonderful pattern emerges that clearly shows storm front movements and how diverse Alabama’s rainfall is.  Some parts of the state have excess rainfall (above historical averages) while others are in exceptional drought, and 50 miles can make a huge difference!

The State Climatologist, Dr. John Cristy, recently published an article that references CoCoRaHS and demonstrates how important and reliable the volunteer information is, and how closely it tracks professional data (http://nsstc.uah.edu/alclimatereport/). The AWW website home page links to all his monthly climate reports and the Drought Monitor for Alabama.

All this underscores how valuable citizen volunteer data can be, whether through CoCoRaHS, AWW or other monitoring networks. Simple, accurate methods, good training and conscientious people combine to do great things!  Clearly, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  Your “little ol’ data” from a dot on the map may seem insignificant and cause you to wonder if your monitoring is worth it, especially if it remains stable (for good or bad!) over months of sampling.  But, when looked at from a watershed or statewide perspective, your site gets a great boost in value in helping everyone understand long-term conditions and trends of our water.  Think about how you’ve joined (or could join) thousands of AWW monitors who have collected far more stream and lake data records (more extensively and more frequently) than ADEM, EPA or other government agencies.  Consider how each data record contributes to a 20-year tradition of Alabama citizens taking a personal role in watershed stewardship, and helps us all put our data to action more effectively for educating youth and adults, protecting and restoring waterbodies, and improving water policy.  Be encouraged by your efforts, appreciate the “power in numbers,” and do what you can to help AWW continue and grow.