In Scotland, it feels like we spend most of our lives looking out of windows at grey skies, seeing rain battering off the glass, yet very few of us do more than pass comment on the weather; but across the country a network of dedicated individuals go beyond just talking. Introducing our volunteer rainfall observers…
Volunteer rainfall observers go that extra mile and not only watch the weather, but venture out in all the elements, to measure every last drop of rain, that so frequently pours down. Every day they measure and record the accumulated rainfall using a rain gauge and send the data to us on a monthly basis for entry into our database and the Met Office national archive.
We record rainfall from 383 rainfall monitoring sites in Scotland. Over two thirds of these sites are registered with the Met Office and contribute to the national rainfall archive. The rainfall observers run 146 of these sites. From the Outer Hebrides in the north, down to the Solway coast in the south, and from St Andrews in the east to Glasgow in the west, members of the public have volunteered to help with our national rainfall monitoring programme by measuring rainfall in their local area.
Some of our volunteers are relatively new, while others have been rainfall observers for over 30 years. Our longest serving volunteer, Mr Greenshields from Sanquar in Dumfries and Galloway, has been recording rainfall for an impressive 50 years!
There are various reasons why our observers volunteer; from a general interest in the weather or a curiosity about other monitoring happening in their area, to carrying on a family tradition. Peter Kennedy’s family in Ayrshire have recorded rainfall for over 100 years, with records dating back to 1898. But one thing all our volunteers have in common is that once they start recording rainfall, they become hooked, taking a real interest in the changing levels of rain during the year and from year-to-year, which fuels their dedication.
Recording rainfall is crucial to a number of nationwide services, including weather and flood forecasting, and the volunteer rainfall observers play an invaluable role in capturing this information. Without them, we wouldn’t have the wealth of information we do about weather patterns, and our ability to predict climate trends would be less accurate.
Meet some of our rainfall observers
Across Scotland there is a network of 146 voluntary rainfall observers recording rainfall on a daily basis. Here we meet two of our dedicated observers, and find out more about why they got involved in measuring rainfall.
I became a rainfall observer 15 years ago, in 1997, but rainfall has been recorded by my family for about 60 years. My brother, Alasdair, studied meteorology and was a dedicated rainfall observer from an early age. He taught me a lot about cloud structures, which led to my interest in the weather. After he died, we wanted to continue reading the gauge as a tribute to him and also because it provides important information about our climate and how it is changing. Our granddaughter, Marley, also helps us take the readings, so I hope she might be one of a new generation of volunteers and carry on our family tradition.
I first started recording rainfall in 1967 when I was teaching geography at Strathallan School. I thought having a rain gauge would help my students with their studies; I’ve been a rainfall observer ever since, so that’s 46 years. I really enjoy comparing the figures, day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, and seeing the changes in the weather. As well as measuring rainfall, I also record temperature and use the data to write a weather report for my local paper, the Perthshire Advertiser. Reading the gauge is easy to do, and if I’m ever away and can’t record the rainfall, my son steps in and does it for me.
- How do our volunteers record rainfall?
- All rainfall observers are provided with a rainfall storage gauge, which is positioned on open level ground away from any obstructions such as trees, fences or buildings. Every day at 09:00 GMT, rainfall observers measure the accumulated rainfall. They do this 365 days a year. Measurements, along with any comments about the weather that day, are recorded on rainfall record cards. At the end of each month, rainfall observers post their completed record cards to SEPA. We then add their data to the Met Office climate database.
- How do we use the data?
- Every month rainfall observers from across the country send their rainfall data to SEPA. But what happens to it and why is it so important to record the amount of rainfall on a daily basis? Christine Duffy, the Observation Network Team Leader at the Met Office, explains more about the data and what it is used for. When the Met Office receives data from rainfall observers, we add it to our climate database, MIDAS, which is a unique digital archive of information, representing more than 150 years of UK weather-related data. The rainfall data stored in MIDAS are used both by us at the Met Office, and by other organisations such as government bodies, utility and construction companies, the agricultural sector, research organisations, and overseas national meteorological services. Using the archived rainfall data, we are able to produce maps of rainfall distribution for the UK and can calculate return periods following bouts of heavy rainfall; information which is then used by government for planning purposes, including planning flood defences.
Our scientists working at the Met Office Hadley Centre also use the rainfall data in their research into climate science and analysis of the impacts of climate change. Climate models produced by the Hadley Centre form the basis of UK and global climate predictions. Daily rainfall measurements submitted on a monthly basis means that the data provided by volunteer rainfall observers is in near real time. This is of added value as we can use the data to help produce weather forecasts and to inform vital weather warning services. The Met Office is indebted to the army of volunteer rainfall observers, whose efforts over the past 150 years have created this fantastic database used by climatologists past, present and future to study and predict our weather.
We need you: become one of our rainfall observers
The service that our voluntary rainfall observers provide is priceless, but we need more people to get involved to help maintain, and expand, our network across the country and continue to collect these vital figures.
We would welcome volunteers from anywhere in Scotland to help capture Scotland’s diverse rainfall patterns. In particular, we are looking for new observers in Lochaber, Sutherland, Shetland and the Western Isles.
If you would like to be a part of it and think you have what it takes to be a rainfall observer, visit our website where you can register your interest in becoming a volunteer.