Saturday, August 8, 2020

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Moab, UT

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    Opinion: For some, weather is an obsession

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    Ron Drake
    Ron Drake
    Times-Independent Columnist
    Bill Rau captured this beautiful shot of lightning striking Castle Rock during a thunder and lightning storm Saturday, May 30. Photo by Bill Rau

    Benjamin Franklin apparently had many quotes, but one is: “Some people are weatherwise, but most are otherwise.”

    I probably fall into the latter category. I don’t know much about the weather except what my weather station, which is set up at my house, tells me. I know what the current temperature is and what the highest temperature was and the same for the wind speed, humidity, barometric pressure and other statistics that I don’t totally understand. I also have a rain gauge that has only been collecting bugs lately. The handy little weather instrument also predicts when it is going to rain but it is usually not very accurate. I understand that it predicts rain based on the barometric pressure but don’t quote me on that.

    There are some people in the valley who are really weatherwise, almost to an obsession. Take Dave Vaughn, for an example. He belongs to a national group called Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow network (CoCoRaHS), which is a grassroots network made up of people of all ages and backgrounds who measure precipitation including rain, hail and snow. Using low-cost measuring tools, volunteers figure out how much precipitation fell at their location each day, then using the CoCoRaHS website, report their observations.

    Vaughn reports daily even when there has been no precipitation and has only missed a couple of days during the past year. He also is a weather observer for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction and calls in occasionally to report unusual weather events such as hailstorms. He keeps track of the weather each day and reports his findings.

    Another example is Bob Russell, our official weather observer for the National Weather Service. He reported this week that “our weather story is mostly about precipitation, and there is not much available to discuss. My records showed a total precipitation of 0.29 for May. Most of that, 0.22 fell on May 30. In April, I only recorded 0.08 of rain. Going back to March, our last significant rain was on March 20. Our historic records shows about one inch for May. Based on our history we shouldn’t expect much rain in June. Our average maximum and minimum temperature for May were 81 degrees maximum and 51 minimum, about 4-5 degrees above our average. Our history suggests that we can expect another bump of 6-8 degrees in June.” Russell commented that the variation of rainfall within the valley is surprising. As an example, the storm last Saturday only dropped 0.05 inch of precipitation at Greg Halliday’s rain gauge on Chamisa Lane compared to 0.22 at Russell’s gauge on Keogh Lane.

    Tom Haraden, another CoCoRaHS contributor and “weather nut,” according to Bob Russell, spoke with Russell about how little precipitation we received in May and how dry it is. He suggested another way to talk about dry weather. He said that potential evapotranspiration (PET) for May at his rain gauge was 9.65 inches. Haraden said: Potential evapotranspiration is the amount of evaporation that would occur from plants and the ground if a sufficient water source was available. This information is collected daily across North America and is used by meteorologists, hydrologists, farmers and ranchers. In Grand County our potential evapotranspiration exceeds our precipitation.”

    Another person in the valley who keeps an eye to the weather is Bill Rau. As a photographer hobbyist his favorite subjects are clouds and lightning and he will go to great lengths to be where the weather is going to be. You will sometimes find him out on the Cisco Desert or other remote locations in the county or in neighboring states with other like-minded photographers to catch the perfect photo during the monsoon season. Sometimes it is right here in Castle Valley and many times he shoots great photos from the front porch of his house.

    Many of us watched with excitement last Saturday as thunder and lightning descended on the area and displayed nature’s power and beauty. Rau was one who captured a direct lightning strike on Castle Rock. Fortunately, there were no reports of fire in our area because the 0.22 inches of precipitation, or whatever you got in your neighborhood, was hardly enough to wet the ground.

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