Eyes on the weather

Sean C. Morgan

The Oregon State University Extension Service is looking for volunteers to help monitor patterns of precipitation and phenology, the timing of natural process, such as bud break.

Seven couples and individuals from Sweet Home and neighboring areas, including Brownsville and Lacomb, attended an initial training session in Sweet Home last week to begin collecting data for researchers in the Oregon Season Tracker program.

Initially, they will begin collecting precipitation data as part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, a national network of citizen scientists who supply data used by numerous public and private organizations with an interest in weather.

Weather reports immediately go to the National Weather Service. Others who use the data include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and ranchers.

“We have a gauge up and running,” said Katie Kohl, who lives in the McDowell Creek area with her husband Stephen Kohl. It’s their interest in their orchard, garden and forestland that interested them in becoming citizen scientists.

“We are very interested in rainfall,” Kohl said. “To know what’s going on is very important, and we’re right in the middle of it. I’m hoping to know more right here what’s going on.”

The information can help guide planting seedlings, watering and tending their orchard, garden and forest.

Most data come from urban areas, she said. This program helps fill in the gaps in the rural areas.

“We’re part of bringing it home nationwide,” Kohl said.

Oregon Season Tracker data are used by the OSU Extension, researchers with the 16,000-acre H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, the PRISM climate group at OSU and others.

Through this program, scientists are able to collect data in spite of financial constraints, said Jody Einerson, education program assistant with the Extension. It allows them to collect data over a large area.

The process is not technical, she said. As part of the program, volunteers set up standardized rain gauges, check them and report their findings daily – or periodically as necessary.

In upcoming training, the Extension will train volunteers in phenology – observing seasonal changes, specifically in eight tree species, Einerson said. Those include white oak, Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine, cottwonwood, common snowberry, Pacific nine bark and a maple species.

Data are recorded in a “nature’s notebook,” Einerson said. A regional group called Green Wave Northwest uses the data to compare to what it observes seasonally via satellite images, to confirm or disprove what researchers think they’re seeing in those images.

All of the data can help scientists understand what they see in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest near Blue River, Einerson said, by increasing the scale of inferences they can make. Researchers can see if the patterns they see there are consistent over larger areas.

The Experimental Forest, created in 1948, is managed by OSU and the U.S. Forest Service.

Season Tracker volunteers can choose their own levels of commitment, Einerson said, ranging from observing just a single plant or rain gauge or perhaps a “phenology walk” with several plant species.

Volunteers also can help recruit more volunteers, she said. “What we’re really interested in doing is getting stations on the landscape.”

The Extension has about half a dozen people already collecting data in Sweet Home, said Brad Withrow-Robinson, forestry extension agent for Linn, Benton and Polk counties. Initially, the Extension reached out to members of its Master Gardener and Master Woodlands programs.

The program doesn’t limit its volunteers, Withrow-Robinson said. Staff members don’t check the gauge at his office during the weekends. They check on Monday and report the overall numbers for the weekend.

Reporting is through a website, and a smart phone app makes submitting data even easier, he said.

For more information, call the Extension at (541) 766-6750 or visit http://oregonseasontracker.forestry.oregonstate.edu or http://www.cocorahs.org. A video about the CoCoRaHS program is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBbO4FnNizg.