Local volunteers feed data to national network
Jon Kiphart walked out to his soggy yard in Philipstown on July 10, the same journey he has taken at 7 a.m. every morning for the last 15 years.
But Kiphart, who lives on Esselborne Road, knew the journey to view a plastic cylinder mounted on a wood post would be “kind of important.”
On television and social media, public officials and residents shared photos, videos and damage reports from the previous day’s flooding, which led to a federal disaster declaration for Putnam, Dutchess and six other counties.
“Because it was a monumental storm, I thought, ‘Just make sure you get this one right,’ ” said Kiphart.
What he found in the cylinder — 6.25 inches of water — was the highest single-day measurement he had ever recorded and became part of a historical record for meteorologists, hydrologists, municipal officials, insurers and his neighbors. It would account for nearly half the 14.21 inches he recorded in July.
Kiphart and Jesse Stacken of Beacon are volunteer weather monitors for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), a system of precipitation gauges covering each state and locations in Canada, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, Guam and Virgin Islands.
Launched in 1998 at Colorado State University, CoCoRaHS has more than 26,000 observers who strive to increase “the density of precipitation data” and raise awareness of weather and climate.
As the only observer in Beacon, Stacken has collected data since 2017. For the July 9 storm, he measured 5.28 inches inside the gauge installed in his yard on Robinson Avenue.
He has reported just one rainier 24-hour period — Sept. 1 to 2 in 2021, when Tropical Storm Ida lashed the Highlands and dropped 6.71 inches in Beacon. Like July’s storm, Ida triggered a federal disaster declaration and exemplified the intense rain events that have become more frequent with climate change.
“The more observers we have out there, the more scientists will be able to analyze the data,” said Stacken.
Kiphart traces his interest in the weather to childhood. He grew up in Ohio and his father, an aerospace engineer, taught him about weather and forecasting. The family had a barometer and rain gauge.
What he learned proved valuable when he began flying planes as an adult, and his interest in the weather continued after he moved to this area in 2000. “Living in the Highlands, you become a lot more subject to the weather,” he said. “You have to become weather-aware.”
After a career spent on the road staging live events, Kiphart began working from home, which gave him the flexibility needed to volunteer for CoCoRaHS, which involves checking gauges at the same time each day. The organization considers 7 a.m. to be ideal.
“Nobody’s ever done this granular look at precipitation data across this big a scale of land,” said Kiphart. “So, my little contribution every day is all part of what they’re using to try to figure out what’s going on.”
Stacken, a pianist, composer and educator, joined CoCoRaHS because his brother, a naturalist and meteorologist in Minnesota, “made me do it,” he said, with a laugh. The commitment was a concern, said Stacken, but feeding his chickens already required a trip each morning to the backyard.
Most days, he is entering zeros for precipitation, but measuring is more complicated in the winter, when volunteers need to gauge snowfall but also melt the snow to measure the amount of water it contains.
“At the end of the season, it’s fun to look at the data and see how much total precipitation we had over the year,” said Stacken.
Because there are not more local observers, the data can be imprecise. Kiphart’s postal address is in Cold Spring, but his house is located in Philipstown at an elevation of 854 feet above sea level (compared to 108 feet for the village) and he lives closer to Beacon than the village.
Between December 2022 and March, Kiphart recorded 37.2 inches of snowfall. But Stacken, whose Beacon home is more than 600 feet lower, reported 3.6 inches. (He did not report snowfall data for the storm that occurred Feb. 27, when 6 inches fell on some parts of the Highlands.)
In their time as observers, both men have noticed trends. Kiphart said that recent storms have dropped “gloppy moisture-laden snows” that, although not deep, are hard to move. “I broke my snowblower once trying to clear it because you can’t get any traction,” he said.
Stacken has noticed long periods of dryness followed by storms with heavy rainfall. He has also noticed how the topography can create microclimates, with some storms affecting just one part of Beacon.
“That’s why I’d love to see more CoCoRaHs observers,” he said.
For more information and data, visit cocorahs.org.