Each evening around dusk, 85-year-old Earl Ourada steps into the front bedroom of his home on an 800-acre, century-old ranch northwest of Boise and checks the day’s high and low temperatures on a digital readout connected to a thermometer outside.
If any rain has fallen, he drops a measuring stick into the 2-foot-high rain gauge a few steps from his front porch.
Then he goes back into the house, calls a National Weather Service data line and punches in the information.
Ourada figures he’s done the same five-minute routine practically every day for some 60 years — with a brief pause for his service during the Korean War — since his brother gave him a rain gauge.
“It kind of started as a hobby,” Ourada said.
Ourada’s hobby, however, is important to the experts at the National Weather Service in Boise. His daily readings give them a picture of weather at his hay and egg ranch northeast of Hidden Springs.
Daily data help meteorologists confirm their forecasts, add to the historical weather record and complete a picture of Southwest Idaho’s climate, said David Decker, who oversees volunteer observation programs for the Boise weather service office.
The problem: There are not enough Ouradas around to cover all the areas where the weather service does its forecasting.
A decade ago, the Boise office had 82 observers spread from Burns, Ore., to Buhl, Idaho, giving daily readings. That number has shrunk to about 50 and created “blind spots” Decker said.
People’s other interests, including the internet and social media, are pulling them away from the idea of weather watching, Decker said. “A lot of the older folks are retiring and you can’t get younger people to make that commitment.”
At the same time, a Colorado State University weather reporting program is hoping to augment its number of weather spotters from 22 in Ada and Canyon counties to possibly 200.
The more observers, the clearer the picture of weather and climate, said Henry Reges, national coordinator for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, which has 20,000 volunteers sending in weather info nationwide.
Those observers can show that even within an individual city, one area may get much more rain than another, Reges said. Those observers provide “ground truth.” Their information on the network’s website is accessible to public agencies and anyone else looking for weather information.
“That is the best thing we have,” Reges said. “You will know exactly what fell where.”
The nonprofit group operates on donations with a budget of about $450,000 a year.
HOLES IN THE DATA
Lack of observers was painfully obvious for the weather service when a snowstorm slammed into Weiser in January, loading up snow on residents’ front yards and roofs. Weather service meteorologists weren’t getting real-time information and couldn’t say for certain how much snow was on the ground or weighing down roofs. Several roofs collapsed in Weiser, including one covering Ridley’s grocery store.
Curly Baker, a Weiser resident, had carefully measured snowfall for several days and determined the snowfall was well over 4 feet.
The weather service visited Weiser after the storm and gathered data and social media reports to determine that the snowfall had been about 45 inches.
When it comes to collecting weather info, Ourada is persistent. If it comes time to call in the day’s numbers and his partner, Pat Larson, is on the phone, he asks her to get off, Larson says. “I have to call in the weather,” he tells her.
Ourada plans to keep weather tracking “as long as I can walk,” he said. But even he feels the pressure of a faster-moving age and keeping up with supplying his eggs to the Boise Co-op.
“I sometimes run out of time” to get everything done, he said.
So you want to be a weather watcher
Two programs are looking for volunteer weather observers in Southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon:
▪ Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network: Volunteers are asked for daily reports on rain, hail and snow including number of inches fallen and snow depth. Volunteers pay $30 for a large rain gauge that they check once a day before turning in results. Sign up on their webpage.
▪ National Weather Service: Observers gather some of the same information as the network. They also report temperatures and water content of snow. The weather service provides equipment, including gauge and high/low thermometer, which they connect to a digital readout in your home that can collect the information for several days. If you are interested, call 334-9860.
Where the Weather Service needs observers
In Southwest Idaho:
In eastern Oregon: