(WHTM) — Weather forecasters have amazing tools at their disposal. Satellites observe changing weather patterns from orbit; powerful computers process raw information into usable data. But one of their most powerful tools is simple and relatively low-tech; networks of ordinary people across the United States and the world who take readings every day in their backyards, and pass them on to local, state, national, and even international weather services.

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Alan Brue, a student at the State University of New York, started Weather Observers Day on May 4, 1989, for weather enthusiasts, both amateur and professional, to share their passion for weather observation and prediction.

People have been observing and recording their observations about the weather for centuries. But until the 1800s there was no fast and efficient way to share their observations with others. That all changed with the invention of the telegraph, and later the telephone. Suddenly it was possible to share weather information in (almost) real-time. By the time the National Weather Service was established as part of the Army Signal Corps in 1870, hundreds of people were already telegraphing weather information from stations across the country.

When the National Weather Bureau became a civilian agency in 1890, the legislation also established the Cooperative Observer Program or COOP. COOP is the great-grandaddy of volunteer weather observation networks; The Weather Service calls it “truly the Nation’s weather and climate observing network of, by and for the people.” More than 8,700 volunteers take daily observations of temperature and precipitation and send their reports to NWS. (Just as the telephone replaced the telegraph farms, the internet is supplanting the telephone.)The readings come from everywhere – rural, urban, and suburban areas, the tops of mountains, and the shores of lakes and oceans.

COOP is by no means the only weather-observing network. There are local, state, national, and international organizations collecting, consolidating, and sharing data. There are too many to include in this article; here is a couple that bounced to the top in our internet searches:

The Citizen Weather Observer Program (CWOP) began with ham radio operators. Over 6500 private citizens broadcast their temperature, wind, relative humidity, and pressure observations, which feed into the NOAA MADIS system. and current data is available for free over the internet.

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHs) were founded in 1998 as a result of a flood in Fort Collins, Colorado the year before. It went national in 2010 and is now international in scope. They concentrate on collecting information about precipitation.

For more about COOPS, click here.

For More about CWOP, click here.

For more about CoCoRaHs, click here.