Rain Gauge

A rain gauge like the type used by volunteer weather observers is pictured. 

FAIRBANKS — Thanks to the work of volunteer weather observers, the National Weather Service was able to promptly report how unevenly snow fell across the Tanana Valley during an early September storm this winter.

A volunteer south of Fox measured about 15 inches, while in North Pole another observer recorded only 10 inches.

The Interior has about 100 participants who’ve gone through training for one of two volunteer National Weather Service volunteer observation programs, the storm spotter program and the cooperative weather observer program.

Both programs give the weather service and the public that uses the data a more precise picture of the weather, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist John Lingaas.

“When we have stormy weather forecasted, these volunteers provide us very valuable information up to and throughout the event,” he said. 

Volunteers don’t need full blown weather stations to help out. Volunteers in both programs receive rain gauges and boards  used to measure snow. In the cooperative weather observer program, volunteers use a National Weather Service-provided thermometer. 

Storm spotters receive about an hour of training, and report to the weather service sporadically when the weather turns stormy. Weather service staff periodically teach groups how to volunteer as a storm spotter. This month a group of amateur radio operators learned how to become weather observers. Another group of new prospective volunteers is scheduled to get the training at Eielson Air Force Base later this month, Lingaas said.

The cooperative weather observer program is a bit more involved. Weather service staff visit the home of the volunteer to supervise appropriate placement of their thermometer, rain gauge and snow-measuring board. The observers then call or email the weather service with temperature and precipitation data every day, or as often as they can.

The Fairbanks-based National Weather Service office makes forecasts and provides weather data for the northern two-thirds of Alaska. It gets much of its data about current conditions from other government agencies and from volunteer observers.

For example, the weather service’s weather station recorded a high of 7 above and a low of 10 below for the 18 hour period between 3 p.m. Sunday and 9 a.m. Monday.

Data from cooperative observers listed online show how much Tanana Valley temperatures can vary with altitude. An observer down at Goldstream Creek reported a chilly low of 13 below and a high of 6 above, in a slightly longer observation window, the 24 hours between 9 a.m. Sunday and 9 a.m. Monday. An observer at the higher elevation of the college observatory recorded a balmy high of 14 above and a low of 2 below during the same 24 hours. 

The weather service operates its own weather stations outside the agency’s office on the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ West Ridge. It has another weather station at the Fairbanks International Airport, where the weather service launches weather balloons each morning. Other observation data come from the volunteers and weather stations at military bases and state airports. The weather service also uses data from volunteer non-weather service-associated programs such as the Citizen Weather Observer Program.  

For more information about the storm spotter program, email Lindsay Tardif-Huber at lindsay.tardif-huber@noaa.gov. For more information about the cooperative weather observer program, call Craig Eckert at 458-3713. 

Contact outdoors editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.