In Rain Fell Through the Night in the Habitat Issue of the Grindstone, we looked at how storms in our region are changing—less spread out and more intense, dense and difficult to predict—and the need for us to adapt our approach to flood monitoring. We talked about installing more rain gauges, so that we could capture more data and improve predictions of flooding, but we didn’t mention the other piece that is helping to fill gaps in our monitoring network.

That other piece is citizen science. Citizen science is the collection and, in some cases, the analysis of environmental data by members of the public, often in collaboration with a group of scientists. One of the most popular forms of citizen science is the installation and monitoring of rain gauges. Here at Conservation Halton, data from rain gauges that community members have installed on their property is used to supplement information collected from our own rain gauge stations.

This is how it works: When it rains, water collects in the gauge. Then, after the rain has stopped, the owner of the rain gauge will check the amount of water that has accumulated and enter this measurement into an online database, such as the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS). This data is presented using maps and tables, so you can easily look through each of the measurements and should be able to identify some trends. This data is available to the public and, according to CoCoRaHS, is used for resource management, monitoring and research purposes by everyone from meteorologists and hydrologists to emergency managers and insurance adjusters.

Conservation Halton supplements our rainfall data with the data collected from these rain gauges. The original rain gauge network that we built was based on the assumption that the storms we would be forecasting would be large and spread out but, with climate change, we’re now seeing different types of storms within our watershed. Storms used to spread out across a wide area but data shows that storms have become more focused, intense and harder to predict. Having a greater density of rain gauges within the watershed enables us to record more data to understand the spatial distribution and severity of these storms. In this way, citizen scientists are contributing to a network of data with real-life implications.

When citizen scientist and McMaster student, AJ Patel, was living in Hamilton, he had a rain gauge in his backyard. At the time, AJ was completing his undergraduate degree in Arts and Science, and he had a personal interest in the environment. He first learned about rain gauges from a post on Reddit.

“I wanted to get more into environmental activism but I didn’t have any qualifications in environmental science or anything, so I figured that a rain gauge would be a cool and easy way to help climatologists and meteorologists track precipitation.”

That’s the great thing about citizen science—you don’t need a degree to get involved. Anyone can set up a rain gauge in their backyard or front yard, even on their rooftop or balcony. Homeowners can check out how much rain fell in their neighbourhood after a storm, gardeners can find out how rain affects their plants and farmers can better predict how much rain falls on their crops.

Even if you’re not a scientist, it can be interesting and useful to measure the amount of rain on your property but these rain gauges and databases can also assist with watershed monitoring, education and science. The more rain gauges there are in our watershed, the more data we have to better understand the impacts of storms on our streams and wetlands as well as our homes, businesses and infrastructure. As a citizen scientist, you are directly contributing to the conservation of our environment and the protection of our communities and that is something to be proud of.

The best way for us to prepare for the impacts of climate change is to work together and that’s what citizen science is about. Climate change is going to affect us all, if it hasn’t already, so we all need to be part of the solution. If you would like to set up a rain gauge on your property, click here for more information.

Written by: Karlee May and Erica Scime, with special thanks to Glenn Farmer and Janelle Weppler.

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Last modified: July 6, 2018

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