2022 journal article
Backyard Hydroclimatology: Citizen Scientists Contribute to Drought Detection and Monitoring
BULLETIN OF THE AMERICAN METEOROLOGICAL SOCIETY, 103(10), E2222–E2245.
Abstract The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network is a well-regarded, trusted source of precipitation data. The network’s volunteers also provide weather and climate observations through daily comments, significant weather reports, and condition monitoring reports. Designed to meet a need for local information about drought events and their impacts, “condition monitoring” was initiated as a pilot project in North Carolina and South Carolina in 2013 and launched nationally in October 2016. Volunteers regularly report on how precipitation, or a lack thereof, affects their local environment and community by ranking current conditions on a seven-point scale ranging from severely dry to severely wet and sharing observations through written narratives. This study assesses the usefulness of these reports for drought monitoring and decision-making, drawing from the >7,100 reports submitted in the Carolinas between October 2016 and June 2020. This period encompasses the Carolinas’ climate patterns and extreme events such as droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes (“drought busters”). Three aspects of usefulness were evaluated in the reports: the extent to which volunteers’ assessments of dry-to-wet conditions correspond to objective drought indicators (EDDI, SPI, SPEI) typically employed for monitoring drought; how volunteers’ qualitative observations depict changing conditions, focusing on two flash droughts in 2019; and actual use of the reports by National Weather Service offices, State Climate Offices, U.S. Drought Monitor authors, and drought response committees. Although report content can vary widely, findings show that volunteers’ assessments reflect meteorological conditions and provide on-the-ground details that are being incorporated into existing drought monitoring processes.