Every drop counts: Plainfield woman measures precipitation in her backyard as part of a nationwide network

  • Volunteer weather observer Pleun Bouricius of Plainfield demonstrates how she takes precipitation measurements each day for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, also known as CoCoRaHS on Friday morning, Nov. 16, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteer weather observer Pleun Bouricius of Plainfield demonstrates how she measures snow for the precipitation amounts she reports daily to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, also known as CoCoRaHS. Bouricius first sets a hollow four-inch diameter cylinder down over the new snowfall that has accumulated on a flat white board. She then uses a “snow swatter” — a spatula — to brush away any nearby snow before sliding the tool under the cylinder to pick up only the snow that is contained within it. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteer weather observer Pleun Bouricius uses a basket to carry the simple instruments with which she takes precipitation measurements for her daily reports to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, also known as CoCoRaHS, Friday morning, Nov. 16, 2018, in Plainfield. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteer weather observer Pleun Bouricius demonstrates in her Plainfield kitchen the method she uses to measure the water contained in a snowfall sample on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteer weather observer Pleun Bouricius demonstrates in her Plainfield kitchen the method she uses to measure the water contained in a snowfall sample. To hasten the process, she adds a known amount of hot water to the sample. After the snow has melted, she removes an equivalent amount of water from the container and measures the amount of remaining water to the closest 1/100th of an inch. STAFF PHOTOs/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Pleun Bouricius of Plainfield talks about being a citizen weather observer for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, also known as CoCoRaHS, on Friday morning, Nov. 16, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteer weather observer Pleun Bouricius of Plainfield highlights the precipitation measurements she personally has reported in the last week to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, also known as CoCoRaHS, on Friday morning, Nov. 16, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteer weather observer Pleun Bouricius of Plainfield heads out to her backyard weather station to demonstrate how she takes precipitation measurements each day for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, also known as CoCoRaHS, Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/16/2018 6:20:34 PM

PLAINFIELD — The Valley was hit with its first major snowfall this week and though many adults woke up dreading shoveling or enduring their slower-than-usual commutes, Friday was an exciting morning for Pleun Bouricius.

Every morning at 7 a.m. for the past three years she has measured precipitation in her backyard in Plainfield.

The first snow is always exciting, she said. Friday morning she measured 7.5 inches.

Bouricius is not a scientist. Rather, she’s a independent historian, writer and editor, who previously worked at MassHumanities. She’s also one of many volunteers across the country who are part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, or as they call themselves, “CoCoRaHS.”

The daily measurements of volunteers like Bouricius get used by people like emergency managers and hydrologists, get pulled into the National Weather Service systems and are used in programs that forecast flooding in rivers, said Jennifer Vogt, a meteorologist at the NWS Albany office and a coordinator for CoCoRaHS in Western Massachusetts. Data also gets included in public information statements — such as the information the NWS released Friday morning about the snowstorm.

In Massachusetts, there are 312 active observers, 13 of whom are in Hampshire County, according to Vogt.

The network’s tagline: “Because every drop counts.”

That’s a sentiment Bouricius took to heart Friday morning as she showed a Gazette reporter how she carefully takes her daily measurements. It was still snowing as she trudged in boots through her backyard to her designated snow measuring spot.

Rain measurements can be taken from a gauge attached to her fence, but snow is more complicated.

Bouricius first sticks a yard stick in the snow, noting how deep it is. Then, she takes a tall cylindrical container and pushes it into the snow. Beneath this spot is a piece of wood to keep the ground level.

Putting what she and others in CoCoRaHS calls a “snow swatter” — Bouricius uses a spatula — under the container, she secures the snow inside and flips it upside down and dumps it into a plastic container.

Inside her kitchen, where a wood fire stove burns, she heats up a kettle of water to melt the snow. Another measurement she reports is how much water is in the snow.

“It’s all about water, forget the snow … They’re not about how inconvenient it (the snow) is,” she explained.

Knowing how much precipitation in addition to the snow depth is important, she said. If it rains after a big snow, for example, snow can be washed into a nearby river. Then you could know how much water, rather than frozen snow, would go into the river.

Putting her glasses on, she pours exactly an inch of water in the container of snow. Once it’s melted, she pours out an inch of water and leaves the rest to measure to the one hundredth of an inch in a gauge, a figure she submits online by 9 a.m. daily.

“Most days it takes me about 20 seconds flat,” she explained. Other days, like Friday, it might take longer.

Reports of zero precipitation get recorded and are important too, for example in tracking a drought.

“For the most part it’s all very, very useful,” Vogt said. “There’s no such thing as too much data that we can get.”

“The weather changes so abruptly sometimes,” Vogt explained. “Even if someone else in your town has a gauge the precipitation total can vary a lot even a mile apart, especially in summer months with severe weather.”

And while Friday was fun, measuring snow can get old after awhile. “It’s annoying when you get snow every day,” Bouricius said. “After a while it’s like, when will spring come?”

While viewing the National Weather Service’s website one day, Bouricius said she noticed that the service was recruiting for CoCoRaHS.

“I thought, ‘what’s that?’” she recalled. She did some research, found it interesting and decided to volunteer.

That was three years ago and she has since taken more than a thousand measurements.

“I’m hooked on it,” she said.

Bouricius cited climate change as a reason she’s involved.

“I think it’s important — it’s part of keeping track of climate change,” she said.

While one can complain about climate change or how the government addresses it, she said, she sees the network as a small way to take action and collaborate with others.

Another reason: “I am also a little obsessed with water,” she said. She’s been living in Plainfield since 1993 and grew up in the Netherlands, “Hence the obsession with water,” she said.

As one of the lowest lying countries in the world, flood control systems are vital in the Netherlands.

She writes a blog about a bog in her backyard entitled “AgathaO.” She’s also a photographer who frequently shoots water.

As Bouricius sees it: “Water and clean water storage is going to be the issue of the future. Water is so important, but we don’t pay attention to it.”

Bouricius, for one, sure is paying attention.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com




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