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Be More Observant – What’s Happening Now?

May 7th, 2016

Do you ever long for a clearer perspective on what is happening outdoors?  Maybe it’s a corollary of taking time to “smell the roses”, when we resolve to be more observant and fully savor the fresh breezes of spring.   This week, I write more about the types of weather observing which can be done from home – using tools such as rain gauges and home weather stations.  Next week, I’ll build upon the observing basics featured in these early May posts as we broaden our view toward getting more out of each day’s weather forecast.


If you missed last week’s blog post, find it down the page – after this post!


In the summer of 1974, I began recording weather observations twice a day. I took the readings from my newly installed home weather station.   For many years I used a 12-column ledger book which I adapted to this purpose.  As I have gotten older (and busier) I scaled back the observations allowing them to fit on the calendar days of a pocket planner.  This enables me to quickly look and see the temperature and rainfall trends over the past few weeks.

The key to success and enjoyment when keeping weather observations at home is consistency and organization.   One of the most satisfying aspects of keeping these records is to be able to look back at details of weather events from years ago.  If you have a natural interest for this type of detail, why not become the “weather historian” for your household?

Rain Gauge Essentials

Tube and Funnel Rain Gauge

This type of rain gauge can be purchased for about $30 and is designed to be attached to a post. Lacking an ideal location, I keep it in a five gallon bucket which is weighted to keep it upright during windy weather.













Above is a picture of my well-used rain gauge.  It is the second gauge of this type which I have owned.  I received the first one 20 years ago while touring the National Weather Service office in Duluth, MN.  After about ten years the plastic will fade and become susceptible to cracking.  Large hail will further shorten the life of this type of gauge.  The surface area of the funnel opening on top is ten times that of the graduated tube in which the rain is collected.  This makes it very easy to read rainfall to the nearest hundredth of an inch.  I think that the wider collection area at the top makes for more accurate measurements than one would get from a very small gauge.  This gauge — with the funnel and small tube removed —  even works well for measuring snowfall.

Another type of rain gauge which I used in the past is a wedge style.    With this design the gauge narrows from top to bottom, making it easy to read small amounts of rain.  This page provides pictures of various types of rain gauges, and tips on buying and mounting a rain gauge.  It even has ideas for retarding evaporation of rainfall from the gauge when you aren’t able to measure it immediately!

An ideal site for a rain gauge is away from obstructions which can hinder the rain from falling into it.  When living outside of town, I always had better success with gauges sheltered from the full force of the wind, as long as the sheltering trees or buildings were not so close as to block rain or snowfall.  It can be useful to have the gauge fairly close to the house – especially in cold weather, or when you need to take a quick measurement during a rainstorm.   For a bit more money, an electronic or digital gauge is also an option.   Based on the principle of weighing the rain to determine the amount, the electronic gauge eliminates the need to go outside to measure rain.

Home Weather Stations

The home weather station is a collection of instruments for measuring temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, and rainfall.  An online search shows that Oregon Scientific, Ambient Weather, La Crosse Technology, Honeywell, and Acurite are some of the more well-known sellers of home weather stations.  The product order page for Acurite is appealing because each weather station links to its own Youtube video which explains its features.  Some weather stations will establish a wireless connection to your home computer for downloading weather data so it can be saved or displayed.  Others will send observations via internet to websites which aggregate the observations for a portion of a state or region. Many weather stations do require some handyman skills to attach the sensors to ideal locations for measuring weather conditions.  A few inexpensive weather stations have no outdoor sensors, but instead receive signals providing data from the nearest official observing site.  I do not recommend that type of station if you want conditions from your exact location.  You may be surprised how much conditions at your house will vary from those of the nearest “official” site.

Sharing Observations

If you have a good site for a rain gauge, you can sign up for the National Weather Service’s weather observation program known as CoCoRaHS (Collaborative Community Rain, Hail and Snow Network) through which precipitation reports are sent to your local NWS office.  Looking for a less formal way to pass on your observations?  Your local NWS office also accepts and appreciates rainfall and weather reports sent via Twitter or Facebook.  Such reports are valuable to meteorologists for verification of forecasts during a storm, particularly in cases where precipitation is changing over from rain to snow.


Reports from Various Sources

Most readers probably won’t go to the effort of installing weather instruments at home.  This need not keep you from having a good source for current weather conditions.  The NWS website provides current conditions on every local forecast page, with regional and statewide summaries just a couple clicks away.   Another good source of current weather observations are the automated sensors deployed on roadsides in various states. These assist in planning for winter road maintenance.  For travelers, these sites may provide more current data than the road condition summaries on which many rely.  The roadside sensors provide not only temperature and wind conditions, but even precipitation type and pavement temperatures.  This site displays the roadside sensor data for the state of Iowa.


What is your favorite source of current weather conditions?

How much interest do you have in conditions elsewhere in your state or region?


In the most recent two blog posts I have covered some essentials for keeping track of what is happening in real-time outside your door.  In the coming weeks, we’ll build on this knowledge to enable the forecast to work for you every day.


When severe weather threatens, review my suggestions for keeping ahead of the storm.

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