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Official Rain Totals Vs. Your Rain Totals

By Ellen Bacca
Published On: Aug 30 2012 04:17:46 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 29 2012 10:18:12 PM CDT
EASTERN CAROLINA -

Sometimes it can be frustrating. You turn on the TV and see a rainfall map, and that map has a big zero near your hometown, despite a heavy rain shower earlier in the day.  Well, there is a reason why.

Rain falls everywhere, but "official" rain totals are only gathered from certain locations, mainly airports. That's because back in 1980, the Federal Aviation Administration put together a nationwide effort to get automated weather stations at all airports. These weather stations can do it all. They measure rain, visibility, snow and even cloud base heights.  These automated stations are called A.S.O.S. sites, which stands for Automated Surface Observing Systems.

These systems can do what no human can - give 24 hour/seven-day a week weather reports.

"It used to be when I first joined the weather service, I had to do manual observations and this is all automated so much nicer and it's very reliable," says National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist John Cole.

These A.S.O.S run completely on their own, which means they can be put in remote locations or in extreme weather conditions. And if they sense the weather conditions around them deteriorating, they will automatically respond.

"So we're seeing that information every minute or less depending on the weather conditions. If visibility really drops below three miles or significant weather is in the area we'll get observations more frequently," says Cole.

And while A.S.O.S. stations provide incredibly accurate information about the atmosphere, they are kind of few and far between.  We only have about 15 automated stations in all of Eastern Carolina.  To fill these data voids, the National Weather Service uses volunteer weather spotter's observations.

Jim Gilbert and his wife have been taking weather observations for over 10 years. Every day, the meticulously record rainfall in two rain gauges and submit their reports to the National Weather Service.  Gilbert says it has been a busy August.

"It's amazing how much rainfall.  I mean it's almost everyday we've had some measurable amount of rain. This is the first sun we've had in a long time," says Gilbert.

Jim Gilbert lives in Perrytown, just down the road from the airport. He says he and his wife perform such high quality observations, the National Weather Service has used them in the event the airport site goes down in a severe weather situation.  He also says there have been times his gauge total doesn't match the total at Coastal Carolina Airport.

"Sometimes they get a thunderstorm or something, we may get a little bit more they may get a little bit more," says Gilman.

Which just goes to show you just how scattered scattered showers can be.