National Weather Service seeks spotters in Mesa County
Sometimes, the National Weather Service gets it wrong.
Even in the best of circumstances, attempting to predict something with so many variables and data points is a daunting process. Meteorologists at the Grand Junction office have the additional challenge of overseeing wide stretches of land in western Colorado and eastern Utah, where the rugged landscape and weather interact in unpredictable ways.
“Topography has a huge effect on the type of weather that occurs in the mountains,” said meteorologist Jim Daniels. “Most of our storms comes from the west. We don’t have clean fronts coming through here. Our weather is very disrupted.”
According to Daniels, the station tempers the national forecasts with local readings and topographical eccentricities.
“We as the human forecaster come in and try to fine tune the forecast for areas of interest due to recreation or areas of population,” Daniels said. “What happens at Aspen is not necessarily the same thing that happens at Vail or Glenwood Springs, even though it may be the same weather system.”
That means that once in a while, your phone will inform you that it’s sunny outside during a downpour or a blizzard.
“We can’t get every little nook and cranny in the mountains, but I think overall we do fairly well,” Daniels said. “Sometimes we lean on the forecast models, especially as we get out farther into the future, and weather being fluid as it is, things change.”
Here’s the good news — you can help. The NWS has a network of volunteer storm spotters and cooperative observers, and it is looking for more of them in Mesa County.
“We depend heavily on eyewitness reports, which help us to verify things,” said Jim Pringle, warning coordination meteorologist. “There’s a lot of holes in that network. We can’t have too many storm spotters.”
The NWS uses the data gathered to double check remote readings, verify the accuracy of warnings and advisories, and keep a climatological record.
Besides being a spotter, you can also volunteer with the Colorado Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), which is overseen by the Colorado Climate Center. CoCoRaHS volunteers keep a detailed daily precipitation record at sites throughout the state, which can be freely perused at cocorahs.org.
“There’s nothing like living in the place you’re forecasting for,” Daniels said. “You just get used to what happens and if you’re observant you can tell.”
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