rain meter

Backyard rain meters such as this one help calculate the annual rainfall.

As we slip away from summer and into fall, my garden looks different. New flowers are taking the stage, as others past their prime. But this season feels a little different, things still are green, lush even.

I’m used to autumn’s trees looking exhausted, worn out from months of struggling for a drink, their colors often crispy and dull. Perhaps, that is because the past few seasons have produced drought conditions and this year has been different. Or, has it?

Forecasters look to the past to help predict the future; the farther back they look, the more confident they are about their predictions. Around the globe, climatologists work with records in 30 year blocks to analyze trends and establish “normal” temperature and precipitation patterns.

Our current “normals,” are based on records from 1981-2010. Next year, climatologists will start with a new 30 year block and begin normalizing data from 1991 to 2020.

We enjoy stable temperature patterns here in North Carolina. We can predict that our lowest temperatures will usually occur in mid-to-late January and that we’ll reach our high temperatures in mid-July. While locations vary, historically nearly half of our days are frost free.

The western part of our state has the shortest growing season. Averaging 170 frost-free days a year, Boone typically sees its first frost somewhere around the middle of October. Raleigh, with 210 frost-free days, experiences its first frost near the end of October. Wilmington enjoys the longest season, recording an average of 247 frost-free days that will end around the middle of November.

As for precipitation, we don’t experience either wet or dry seasons: our rain falls year-round. While there are notable exceptions, we historically receive between 50 to 60” of rain each year – good news for North Carolina gardeners.

Global pandemic and national chaos aside, how does this year compare to what’s “normal?” For answers, I look to CoCoRaHS and their 1,049 volunteer monitors in North Carolina.

CoCoRaHS, pronounced KO-ko-rozz, is the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network. You can check them out at cocorahs.org. Begun in 1998, it is run by Colorado State University and posts about 10,000 precipitation reports from volunteer monitors each day.

Our statewide average precipitation this summer was 17.4-inches that’s nearly 2-inches above average. Some of our counties, however, reported 6” in a single event. This brings me back to my concern about the weather impacting my garden.

Most gardeners obsess about the weather, although frequently our concern reaches no further than our garden’s gate. Through CoCoRaHS, my desire to know more about the weather impacting my garden helps forecasters expand their knowledge.

Saying “rain doesn’t fall the same on all,” CoCoRaHS combines thousands of daily observations from volunteers across the country into precipitation reports. National and state forecasters, scientists and governmental agencies all use its data to track and forecast our weather.

By participating, I can track how much rain fell in my garden and compare it to other locations in my county, our state or nationwide. Looking back at historical records, I can see if we are, in fact, experiencing a wetter fall.

Thanks to CoCoRaHS citizen scientists, I’m affirming my gardener super powers. Yes, we have experienced more precipitation this fall than in the past few years and nearly ten thousand other volunteers have confirmed my suspicions about the weather.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com.

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