National Weather Service gauges interest

Norton office seeks Island weather ‘geeks’ to collect data.

Thomas Hodgson checks his rain gauge in West Tisbury. - Lexi Pline

Thomas Hodgson looks at his rain gauge every morning and files a report with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Norton. On Monday morning, after another driving rain Sunday that flooded Five Corners, Hodgson reported close to an inch of rain in West Tisbury.

Sharon Pearson, another observer, reported 1.33 inches of rain from her Vineyard Haven gauge.

And, at another West Tisbury gauge, Cathy Minkiewicz reported 1.22 inches.

Hodgson, Pearson, and Minkiewicz are three of the four weather data collectors on the Island, part of a NWS network known as Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow network, known as CoCoRaHS. There are about 200 volunteers statewide.

Joseph Dellicarpini, science and operations officer for the NWS at the Norton office, is the coordinator of the CoCoRaHS network for the regional office. In February, he reached out to The Times seeking more volunteers for the program from the Vineyard. In talking to Hodgson, Pearson, and Minkiewicz it’s clear there are gaps in the data for the Island, and that the task of taking and reporting the measurements is simple.

“I hope we get more reporters,” Minkiewicz said. “It’s kind of a geeky thing to do, but I like it.”

Minkiewicz started reporting in 2011, inspired by John Pearson, another weather reporter, after she attended a workshop on lightning at Felix Neck.

John Pearson, who died earlier this year, was also the inspiration for his wife Sharon’s daily ritual of checking the rain gauge on their deck and reporting the results. She said the two of them shared the love of the weather, often volunteering to make meals for the crews at the Mount Washington Observatory, a nonprofit that does weather and climate research on New England’s highest peak. In recent years, as her husband’s health worsened, Sharon Pearson took over the daily duties and even ventured to Mount Washington on her own where she got to feel the force of a 100 mph wind.

Felix Neck was also involved in Hodgson becoming part of the CoCoRaHS network. It was about a half dozen years ago and he was encouraged to purchase a rain gauge and start recording. He’s been hooked ever since.

There’s nothing too complicated about it. It’s mostly checking the gauge and reporting it. When it snows, it’s about using a ruler to measure and melting some snow to report the moisture.

“Their ideal candidate is probably the retired, compulsive old fart who never leaves home and compulsively checks his guage every morning at 7,” Hodgson joked.

If you’re away for a day or two, you can report combined days or you can do what Minkiewicz did and deputize your daughter while she is house-sitting to gather the numbers. “It’s a link to the chain you don’t want to break,” she said of collecting the data.

In a conversation with The Times, Dellicarpini said the Island’s four observers are mostly centered around Tisbury and West Tisbury. “Even on the Island, weather can vary between Aquinnah and Oak Bluffs,” he said. The only other official weather stats available on the Island are from Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

Hodgson said he’d like to see volunteers from Chappaquiddick, Edgartown, Chilmark, and Aquinnah.

Minkiewicz said she’d love to see data from Cuttyhunk. “It’s interesting to see the difference that location makes,” she said.

Some of the data is used in real time, Dellicarpini said, and some of the statistics are used to help with drought management plans. The data is also useful for city and town planners looking at the effects of climate change.

The only supplies a member of the CoCoRaHS needs is a four-inch rain gauge, which costs about $35, and a ruler. The network is for any age, but Dellicarpini said it’s mostly retirees and there are a few schools that participate. “It’s a great citizen science program,” he said.

There wasn’t much snow to measure this winter, but lately there has been a lot of rain. In April to this point there have been 19 rainy days, Dellicarpini said.

“Oh my God, it’s been wet, wet, wet,” Hodgson said. “There’s an old joke about the first five months on Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “It’s January, February, March, March, and March.”

To sign up, go to the CoCoRaHS website (cocorahs.org) and click on the “Join CoCoRaHS” orange box on the upper right side of the web page. After registering, take the simple online training, order a plastic rain gauge from the CoCoRaHS website, and start reporting.