Backyard Hydroclimatology: How Citizen Scientists Contribute to State- and National-Scale Drought Monitoring Efforts

Authors: Kirsten Lackstrom*, Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments, Amanda Farris, Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments, Rebecca Ward, State Climate Office of North Carolina
Topics: Climatology and Meteorology, Applied Geography, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: drought, citizen science, interdisciplinary methods, project evaluation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Madison B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Based on a national-level need for a more systematic collection of drought impacts information, the Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments team (CISA) created and piloted the “Citizen Science Condition Monitoring” project. Whereas current reporting systems often focus on the adverse effects of very severe droughts, the condition monitoring approach documents where and when drought conditions are emerging, intensifying, or receding. Launched in 2013 in North and South Carolina, the project utilizes tools developed by the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network. In addition to daily precipitation measurements, CoCoRaHS volunteers submit regular condition monitoring reports. They indicate severely wet to severely dry conditions on a seven-category Likert scale and provide qualitative reports to describe how weather conditions affect environmental and social-economic systems in their local communities. Project evaluation has included surveys with participating citizen scientists; interviews with decision makers about the credibility and usefulness of the reports; and comparison of the citizen scientists’ assessments with objective drought indicators. Results demonstrate that citizen scientists, knowledgeable about their local communities and environment, can play an important role in a drought monitoring system. Citizen scientists’ place-based knowledge provides contextual information about the environmental and societal impacts of drought that objective indices do not. Currently, condition monitoring reports contribute to the “convergence of information” used by U.S. Drought Monitor authors and to North Carolina’s drought assessment process. The project also demonstrates how an interdisciplinary and holistic approach can facilitate the incorporation of new information into climate monitoring.

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