8.1A What Can Citizen Scientists Tell Us about Drought? Using the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) to Improve the Monitoring and Reporting of Drought Impacts

Wednesday, 13 January 2016: 1:30 PM
Room 333-334 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Amanda Brennan, Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments, Columbia, SC; and K. Dow, B. K. Haywood, and K. Lackstrom

Drought impacts data can be used to improve understanding of drought vulnerabilities and to develop and target strategies for drought response and mitigation. Online tools such as the Drought Impact Reporter provide a valuable repository of drought impacts information. However, observers typically submit one-off impact reports, when drought conditions are severe or extreme, rather than report on a consistent basis which would allow for a better understanding of how and when drought impacts emerge and evolve. In collaboration with the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), and the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow (CoCoRaHS) network, the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments (CISA) developed an experimental method of drought monitoring and reporting by citizen scientists. Project goals included 1) collecting information about on-the-ground drought conditions to improve the identification of drought onset, intensification, and recovery and 2) assessing the usefulness of information provided by citizen scientists for drought decision making. The project was conducted in North Carolina and South Carolina from September 2013 to June 2015. This presentation will provide results from this project, focusing on the analysis of information provided by citizen scientists and CISA's evaluation of the volunteer engagement process.

The project used tools available through CoCoRaHS, a national, non-profit, community-based network of volunteer precipitation reporters. CISA developed tailored training and education materials to recruit volunteers throughout North and South Carolina, conducting in-person and webinar trainings. Project participants were asked to submit weekly condition monitoring reports to describe how recent weather conditions affected environmental, social and economic systems in their communities. In contrast to drought impact reports, submitted only when notable changes caused by a lack of rainfall are observed, condition monitoring reports allow an observer to describe normal conditions that are likely to change during periods of less or more rainfall, creating a basis for comparison through time. Additional education materials were provided over the course of the project period through e-mail, a monthly newsletter and blog posts in order to maintain regular communications with volunteers and support retention. During the study period, 58 volunteers submitted 1,154 condition monitoring reports. Using QSR Nvivo software, CISA researchers analyzed report content according to drought impact categories and other variables of interest to drought decision makers. Three feedback surveys were circulated to volunteers over the project commitment period in order to assess their perceptions of the project and the usefulness of education materials developed to support their role as condition monitoring reporters.

While the Carolinas did not experience a severe drought during the study period, there were periods of abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions in some regions of the two states. The analysis indicates that through regular reporting of on-the-ground conditions, project participants were able to provide information regarding the development and easing of impacts associated with below normal precipitation in their local areas. Report content focused primarily on effects to gardening, landscaping, agriculture, wildlife, and surface water bodies, which correspond to impacts expected in agricultural or hydrological drought. Project participants also provided detailed observations about dry conditions (e.g., soil moisture, water levels in streams and ponds) and other weather conditions (e.g., temperature, humidity, storms) in their condition monitoring reports. The analysis suggests that condition monitoring reports could be used to help identify the early signs of drought and vulnerable locations that might warrant more focused attention if dry conditions were to continue. The project evaluation shows that significant effort was made by the CISA project team to recruit and retain volunteers, and results from participant surveys do highlight that training materials and regular communications from CISA were integral in supporting their involvement in the project. Similar efforts should consider the importance of allocating sufficient resources for volunteer communications and training. The presentation will also discuss how these findings are expected to inform modifications to the Carolinas' project and transfer of the project to other states where there is capacity to support a network of citizen scientists and condition monitoring reporting.

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