In addition to daily precipitation measurement, CoCoRaHS volunteers in North and South Carolina were asked to submit regular condition monitoring reports to describe how recent weather conditions affect environmental, social, and economic systems in their communities. In contrast to drought impact reports, submitted only when notable or severe changes caused by a lack of precipitation are observed, condition monitoring reports allow an observer to describe normal conditions that are likely to change during periods of more or less precipitation, creating a basis for comparison. This concept was generated based on lessons learned about the challenges of drought impact reporting and strategies for advancing drought impact monitoring and research.
The project began in September 2013. From September 2013 through June 2015, 58 volunteers submitted 1,154 condition monitoring reports. An initial round of feedback interviews with local, state, regional, and national level drought decision makers was conducted in 2015 to obtain feedback on report content and analysis and assess how the information might be incorporated into various drought-related decisions. Interviewees included representatives from a variety of agencies and organizations, including the North and South Carolina state climate offices and drought committees, the CoCoRaHS national office, the National Drought Mitigation Center, National Weather Service Weather Forecast Offices, and county-level soil and water conservation districts. Interviewees found that, in general, report information was useful, although delivery of the information was inefficient for effective integration into various decision making processes. A series of three online surveys were also circulated to volunteer observers to evaluate training and outreach materials provided by the project team and to request feedback on ways in which the reporting process might be improved from the observers' perspective.
Based on this feedback, the research team developed new reporting and display tools to increase the usability and accessibility of condition monitoring reports. The condition monitoring web map spatially displays the reports and provides other contextual information such as the current US Drought Monitor map to facilitate drought-related decision making. A condition monitoring scale bar was also incorporated into the online report form to provide a snapshot of conditions ranging from severely dry to severely wet. The scale bar selection is designated by a colored dot on the web map to allow users to easily identify where conditions may be degrading or improving. The new report form was launched nationally in October 2016. Between October 10, 2016 and June 30, 2017, observers throughout the US submitted 11,075 reports. North and South Carolina observers submitted 1,675 of these reports. A national version of the web map will launch in September 2017. Additionally, CoCoRaHS team members are creating summary information from the report data which will be searchable through the CoCoRaHS website. Communications and outreach with observers has also been a key component of the project, reinforcing participation by ensuring that observers are aware of who is using their report content and how.
A second round of feedback interviews will be conducted in fall 2017 to further assess the usefulness of condition monitoring for drought-related decision making and the best means for communicating report information effectively and efficiently. This feedback will inform recommendations for the continuation of this new national effort.