Training Manual for FROST
Where to Place Your Rain Gauge
How to Read Your Rain Gauge
Guide to Measuring Snow
Reporting your precipitation data to FROST
Guide To Measuring Thunder Claps
Guide to Recording Frost
Guide To Determining Snowflake Shape
Guide to Recording Optical Effects
Questions or Difficulties?
Back to Main FROST Page
Keep in mind that if you observe weather phenomena at places other than your registered location, or if you see anything unusual or interesting that is not listed on the form, make note and place it in the appropriate Notes field on the forms.
Clear plastic high capacity rain gauge with mounting bracket
Clear plastic high capacity rain gauge with inner measuring cylinder and funnel
removed -for snow
Ruler or yardstick
Flat object such as a book or board
Warm water for cold weather
Where to Place Your Rain Gauge
When installing the rain gauge it is important to consider its location.
The gauge should be placed in an area that is protected from strong winds
but is not bothered by obstacles that could either block precipitation from
reaching the gauge or cause precipitation to splash towards it. For example,
an ideal location would be a small open meadow surrounded by forest, or an
open back yard not too close to buildings or trees. Place gauge 2-5 feet above
the ground. The rain gauge should be installed at a reasonable distance away
from obstacles such as buildings and trees. As a rule of thumb, if a tree
is 40ft. tall (taller than a two story house) the gauge should be placed at
least 80ft. downwind from it. This will help avoid potential blockage of the
rain gauge and provide accurate readings.
How to Read Your Rain Gauge
It is important to be as accurate as possible when reading your gauge. Scientists,
engineers, and other professionals may use your data. The rain gauge is composed
of three parts: a funnel, a measuring tube, and a 4-inch diameter overflow
tube, and a mounting bracket. The funnel directs the precipitation into the
measuring tube and magnifies it by a factor of 10. This allows observers to
report rainfall to the nearest 0.01" (one hundredth of an inch). The measuring
tube, when full, will hold "one inch" of rainfall. When it rains more than
one inch, the excess water collects in the overflow tube. Reading the rain
gauge is a very easy thing to do, but mistakes can occur. Here are several
situations that you may encounter when reading your rain gauge and how you
should deal with them.
1. The surface of the water in the gauge looks curved. How do I know where
As water fills up the measuring tube, a curved surface is formed called a
meniscus. This meniscus is formed by the surface tension of a liquid in contact
with the sides of the tube. Always read the base of the meniscus when taking
measurements. Here is an illustration to help you understand this process.
2. What do the numbers mean on the side of the measuring tube and how do
I read them? The measuring tube is designed to magnify the rainwater.
This allows more precise readings. Remember that the measuring tube when full
holds one inch of precipitation. The measuring tube is divided, marked and
labeled in smaller parts (increments) in tenths and hundredths. Imagine that
the gauge is equivalent to a dollar, but instead of having one paper bill
you have ten dimes or one hundred pennies. The smallest line on the measuring
tube would equal one penny. We would write in our checkbook that we have 0.01
dollars, and when recording rainfall you would write 0.01 inches. This is
also called one hundredth of an inch. The longer lines on the measuring tube
would be like a dime. We record a dime in our checkbook as 0.10 or if you
have two dimes 0.20. When recording rainfall that has reached these lines
we write them in the same way 0.20 If rain has reached the line .30, you would
say that you had three tenths of an inch of rain or 30 one-hundredths. Here
is an illustration of the calibrated measurement tube of the rain gauge that
contains 30 one-hundredths of an inch (0.30 inches).
3. What if I have a measurement on the middle line between 0.30 and 0.40?
This would be saying that you have three dimes and five pennies. You would
record this as 0.35 inches and report that you have 35 hundredths of an inch
of rain. There are nine smaller lines (hundredth marks) between each larger
lines (tenth marks). This means that you will never have a measurement like
0.0599, for this measurement would be 0.06. Always remember that the greatest
number of decimal places you will have is two. Please do not use your ruler
when taking measurements. A ruler is not calibrated to the measuring tube
and will affect the data. The most common error observers make is confusing
tenths and hundredths. Please be careful, and don't make this mistake.
4. I know some rain fell, but there is nothing (or just a tiny bit but
less than 0.01 inch) in my gauge. What should I report?
We call this a "trace" of rain. This should be reported as "T" on your reports.
Even if there were just a few drops that don't even dampen the gauge, you
should still report a trace.
5. What if there is no precipitation to report?
Just record zero (0.00). It is very important to report 0.00, especially on
days when there are scattered storms in the area. It is just as important
to know where it didn't rain, as it is to know how much it rained where it
6. What do I do if the inside measuring tube is full?
We can determine that more than one inch of rain has fallen by simply observing
that the inside measuring tube is full and the additional water has spilled
out into the larger container. Remember that the measuring tube will only
hold one inch of water. Follow these steps when measuring rainfall more than
Step 1: You will first need to read the precipitation in the measuring tube,
record it, and empty the water in the measuring tube. Do not empty out the
water that has collected in the Overflow Tube.
Step 2: You will need to carefully pour the remaining water, from the overflow
tube, into the measuring tube, record it, and add up the totals. The easiest
way of doing this is by pouring the water into the measuring tube a little
bit at a time. You do not have to fill up the tube to the one-inch mark every
time, rather fill up the tube half or three quarters of the way, record it,
and add up the totals. Be careful not to spill any precipitation. When in
doubt, place a bucket or other large container under the gauge as you pour,
so that you can collect the water if you do happen to spill. If more than
2.00 inches of rain fell, you will have to repeat the process several times.
Make sure you write down each rainfall quantity and add up the total. If you
don't write it down immediately, you could forget.
7. Do I report morning dew that has collected in my rain gauge?
On damp, dewy spring and summer mornings a few drops of moisture may collect
in your rain gauge. Do not to report this as rain. If the only moisture in
your gauge came from dew (rarely will dew collect to more than 0.01 inch),
8. Should I keep a written record of my precipitation data?
Yes, it is important to maintain a written record of your data. This gives
you a permanent record and gives us a backup in case we have computer problems.
This is also important if we find that your data have been entered erroneously
into the FROST computer system. It might happen that a FROST student intern
spots a suspicious or erroneous report for your station. If so, they may contact
you and discuss it with you. Keep your written records handy. Please do not
be offended, we are simply trying to collect the best data as possible. You
can print out our FROST Reporting Form to record your data on.
9. What If I leave for a weekend or for a vacation and find precipitation
in the gauge when I get back?
Simply empty the gauge and don't log a report on this day.
Guide To Measuring Snow
1. The 4" diameter rain gauges that we use for FROST can be used for measuring
the water content of snow. However, you must remove the inner measuring cylinder
and funnel for measurements of snow water content and other freezing/frozen
precip. The inner tube can easily crack and break if moisture collects and
then freezes. But keep the funnel and measurement tube handy indoors -- you'll
2. Have a ruler or yardstick ready (ideally one that measures in inches and
3. You should have a snow board (a flat board, painted white, ideally about
16" x 16"). They come in very handy for measuring snowfall. You will need
to identify a good representative location that is as flat and level as possible
where snow accumulates uniformly and does not melt prematurely. Wooden decks
are OK, but they should be at least 20-30 feet away from your house since
your house will affect snow accumulation patterns.
4. You may need to have warm water handy.
Measuring Precipitation - the water content of snow
The snow (rain, freezing rain, etc. too) will collect in the 4" diameter outer
cylinder (overflow cylinder). If snow collects on the rim of the gauge you
have to decide what belongs in or out of the gauge. I just take a book or
flat object and push gently straight down on the top of the gauge. Whatever
falls in is in, and whatever falls out is out. It may not be perfect, but
at least it's objective. With wet snows, a lot of snow can collect on the
rim, so it makes a difference. Bring the gauge inside at your time of observation.
If it has stopped snowing, you can bring it in earlier and just let the snowmelt.
But you may need to hasten the process. In order to measure the water content
of snow with this type of gauge, you will need to melt the contents and pour
them back into the calibrated inner cylinder. A method that works is to take
my inner calibrated cylinder and pour warm water into it and jot down the
amount. Then add that warm water to the outer cylinder so that all the snow
melts. Then pour the water back into the inner tube and record the total amount.
For example, let's say 0.51" of warm water was added to the snow. Then when
the total sample was measured, it read 0.82" How much precipitation should
be recorded? The answer should be 0.31"
0.82" - Total of melted snow with the added warm water
-0.51" - Total warm water added to melt snow
0.31" - Daily Precipitation
(the amount you should report)
Make sure you avoid spilling. It can happen.
Some people have come up with creative ways to melt their snow in their microwave
or by setting their gauge in a basin of warm water. That way they don't have
to add and subtract additional water. Microwaving rain gauge samples is not
recommended, but a careful person can do it successfully. When you're done,
put the outer cylinder back outside, clean and dry, so it's ready to collect
the next snow (During heavy snow (6" or greater) the cylinder will fill to
the top and overflow with snow. You will have to measure more often than once
daily under heavy snow conditions.
Measuring Snowfall - New Snow Amount
Snowfall is the maximum accumulation of fresh snow during the past day prior
to melting or settling. We measure snowfall to the nearest 0.1 (one-tenth)
inch. Maybe you have a ruler in tenths, but many don't. Since snow melts and
settles, you may have to measure during or soon after snow ends in order to
capture how much accumulated. By 7 AM there may be less. For example if the
snow begins to fall in mid morning, accumulates to 4.2" by 3 PM and then stops
and begins melting and settling such that by 7 AM the next morning you only
have 2.6" of snow on your snowboard, then the correct number to report for
your 24-hour snowfall (new snow amount) is 4.2" -- the accumulation prior
to melting and settling. If the ground was bare prior to this snow your snow
depth (total depth of snow on the ground) would be rounded to the nearest
half inch and would be reported as 2.5 inches. The trick in measuring snow
consistently is simply finding a good place to measure and a firm surface
(such as a snow board) for your ruler to set on. Some people use low picnic
tables, some use their car. Sidewalks are not recommended since they tend
to accelerate melting. Grass is where snow accumulates first, and it is OK
to measure on grassy surfaces, but please know that the snow tends to sit
up on top of the blades of grass, sometimes by one to three inches. Your ruler,
on the other hand, will go right down through the snow and grass to the ground
and give you an exaggerated reading. Just be careful to measure to the bottom
of the snow not to the ground. Measuring new snow accumulation is easy when
the snow falls without wind and isn't melting on the ground. But when the
wind blows, measuring snow becomes a real challenge. We deal with drifted
snow by simply taking many measurements from a variety of locations and averaging
them to get a representative measure. You will get the hang of this -- with
experience. If you use a snowboard, take a core sample and then be sure to
clear the board after your measurement and set it in a nearby location level
on the surface of the new snow. If you leave it down in a depression, it will
tend to collect more snow from drifting if the snow continues.
Snow depth - Total depth of snow on the ground.
Snow depth is simply the total depth of snow on ground at your scheduled observation
time (hopefully 7 AM or close). Snow depth is measured to the nearest half
inch. It includes both new and old snow, and should be reported even on days
when no new snow has fallen. If necessary, take an average of several measurements.
For example, if half the ground has 2" of old snow and the other half of the
ground is already bare, the average snow depth would be 1".
Snow Cores - Core Precipitation
Under some circumstances (primarily strong winds), your 4" diameter gauge
will not catch all of the snow that has fallen. You can watch windblown snow
crystals curve around a rain gauge like water going around a rock in a river.
If you believe your gauge has not adequately caught the precipitation that
has fallen (or, if you're just curious), then take a core sample of the fresh
snow that has fallen. After first measuring the water content in the gauge,
then take the 4" outer cylinder and "cut a biscuit" in the fresh snow by pushing
it straight down. It is best to do this on your snowboard (after you've measured
the snow depth, but before you have cleared the snow and put it back on the
surface). Use a thin sturdy cookie sheet or something like that to slide under
the cylinder so that you can lift it up without spilling the contents. Be
sure to measure in a representative location -- not in a drift or in a wind-blown
or melted area. Then proceed to melt and measure the water content like you
would with any other measurement.
Reporting Your Precipitation to FROST
It is important to the FROST project that you promptly and accurately report
the precipitation data you have collected. FROST scientists, sponsors and
collaborators are most interested in precise daily rainfall totals and precise
hail reports in which can be mapped, displayed, and put into use. In addition,
reports of intense rainfall are helpful in determining locations of potential
flooding. Intense rainfall reports are immediately transmitted to the National
1.When do I report my readings?
You are encouraged to watch your rain gauge anytime it is raining. However,
to stay consistent in collecting the data, you are encouraged to take daily
measurements of 24-hour total precipitation and report the data as close as
you can to 7:00 am each morning. Report 7:00 am was chosen because it does
not normally rain at this time during the summer months and most people are
still at home. We understand that 7:00 am won't always be possible, and it
won't work for everyone. But the closer we are to having everyone report at
the same time, the more consistent our maps and analyses will be. This becomes
especially important if it is raining at the time you report the data. Always
record the time when you did take your measurement so we know for sure.
2. Reporting "Intense Rain"
During events of heavy rainfall, "Intense Rain" reports can be submitted as
a part of the precipitation data. The "Intense Rain" report data are used
informally in projecting potential flooding in an area. Intense rain, for
the purpose of this project, is defined as at least 0.50 inches of rain in
one hour or less. However, we encourage you to report "Intense Rain" any time
you believe the rain is falling hard enough to be a potential problem. Note:
FROST reports may not reach the National Weather Service in time to help them
prepare flash flood warnings, so if dangerous flooding conditions are occurring,
report first to the NWS or to your local law enforcement or emergency management
Guide To Measuring Thunder Claps
When you are aware that there is an approaching thunderstorm, listen for the
sounds of thunder. Record the time that you hear the first clap of thunder.
From this time on, record the time of every clap or rumble you hear until
the event's conclusion. A series of claps or rumbles that all occurs within
5 seconds is considered one clap. Moreover, a cluster of rumbles or claps
should be counted only once.
Example 1: You hear a clap immediately followed by a series of rumbles. This
should be counted only once.
Example 2: You hear a series of claps, and then 30 seconds later you hear
another series of claps. This should be counted twice.
Example 3: You hear a series of claps, 3 seconds of silence, and than another
rumble. This should be counted once.
Example 4: You hear a series of claps, 7 seconds of silence, and then another
rumble. This should be counted twice.
If you have watch with seconds, record the time of the thunderclaps including
seconds since there may be more than one clap in a minute. If you do not have
a timing device with seconds in it, simply record the time to the minute.
For instance, if you hear a clap at 6:48 PM, and then another clap 40 seconds
later when it is still 6:48 PM, make a record that you heard two separate
claps at 6:48 PM.
We are not going to separate the thunderclaps by different thunderstorms.
So if a morning thunderstorm produces six separate claps and then an evening
storm produces 8 separate claps, the claps do not have to be grouped. Simply
record what time of day each of the claps occurred. There will be an internet
form to record the thunderclap information.
Guide To Recording Frost
|| The American Meteorological Society defines frost as "The fuzzy layer
of ice crystals on a cold object, such as a window or bridge, that forms
by direct deposition of water vapor to solid ice." Look for frost to form
when temperatures dip below freezing. When recording, please record the
percent coverage of frost on your car, lawn or other surface (less than
25%, 25%-50% etc.)
Guide To Determining Snowflake Shape
After measuring snow accumulation on your snowboard or your preferred medium,
you are encouraged to take a small sample of snow. To do this, use a ruler, your
glove, or some object that will easily isolate a small sample of snow. If there
is enough light, you can examine the snowflake on location and record the general
shape. If you prefer to record the shape inside, take the small sample of snow
with you and then record it inside. Make sure to record the shape quickly before
it melts. There will be pictures of the snowflakes in your recording packet so
you can mark the picture that the snowflake most closely resembles. At some point
at your convenience, but preferable within 24 hours, you can then enter this information
onto the web page. The web page will consist of the same snowflake shapes in your
packet. Select the shape on the web form and then submit the entry. The following
are the basic shapes that will appear on the packet and the website. The images
and descriptions are taken the California Institute of Technology snowflake website
Dendrite means "tree-like", which describes the multi-branched appearance of these snow crystals. Stellar dendrites have six symmetrical main branches and many randomly placed sidebranches.
These crystals are sometimes 5mm or more in diameter, yet they are quite flat and perhaps less than 0.1mm thick.
Numerous ice ridges seem to divide the plate-like arms of these snow crystals into sectors -- hence they are called sectored plates. Like the stellar dendrites, sectored plates are flat, thin slivers of ice that fall to earth in a stunning diversity of complex shapes.
Plate-like snow crystals may get more attention, but columnar crystals are the main constituents of many snowfalls. These hollow columns are hexagonal, like a wooden pencil, with conical hollow features in their ends.
Columnar crystals can grow so long and thin that they look like needles. Sometimes these ice needles contain thin hollow regions, and sometimes the ends split into additional needle branches.
Not all snowflakes form as thin flat plates or slender columns. Spatial dendrites are made from many individual ice crystals jumbled together. Each branch is like one arm of a stellar crystal, but the different branches are oriented randomly.
These crystals started out growing as columns, but then suddenly switched to plate-like growth. This happens when a crystal is blown into a region with a different temperature
Snowflakes grow up in clouds, and clouds are made of small water droplets. Droplets that freeze onto a falling snow crystal are called rime, and these pictures show crystals that picked up different amounts of rime. Sometimes a snowflake becomes just a ball of rime, which is then called graupel, or soft hail.
If you see a corona (solar or lunar), rainbow, 22° halo or sundog anywhere
in the sky or horizon, please record it. Record the time you saw it. There will
be an internet form to enter your optical effects information. Information about
optical effects can be found at http://www.sundog.clara.co.uk/atoptics/phenom.htm
| Water Droplet Phenomena
A corona may be seen when thin clouds partially veil the sun. When searching
for a solar corona, shield the sun and reduce the light intensity to safer
levels by looking at the sky reflected in a pool of water or a mirror
of plain glass. Coronas are more easily seen around a brightly-lit moon.
Staring directly at or near to the sun can permanently
Rainbows always form in the sky opposite the sun, during or after a rainstorm
where the sun is peeking through the clouds. The sun must be lower than 42°
above the horizon, which makes rainbows visible in the early morning, and more
commonly, late afternoon. Also look for fainter secondary rainbows about 9°
farther outside the primary rainbow. The colors on the secondary rainbow will be the reverse of the primary rainbow.
Ice Crystal Phenomena
22 ° Halo
Halos are much more easily seen when the sun is shielded. Use a building,
a tree, a post or a hand. Always shield both eyes and never look directly at
the sun. The most common is the 22° radius circular halo. It is easily found
in the sky. Stretch out your arm and spread your fingers wide. The distance
from the thumb to the tip of the little finger is then about 20°. Cover
the sun with the thumb and the 22° halo will be near the tip of the small
Sundogs (also known as mock suns or parahelia) often accompany 22°
halos. Look for them to be on the same level as the sun, usually 22°
from the sun. As the sun rises higher in the sky, the sundog will appear
farther than 22° from the sun.
Transmit all reports by the Internet
Webpage reports: To report data, follow the instructions given on the CoCoRaHS
on "Data Entry" on top center of the page. Here you can select the type of data
to be entered. Then follow the instructions and fill out the appropriate data
form. When you are done, check your entry for accuracy and then click on "Submit".
Your reports will immediately be sent to FROST and will appear in the data reports.
In Case of Difficulties.
If you have any questions or problems, please contact the appropriate FROST
staff members provided on the "PA Reporting Communications" form in you observer
information packet. You may also use the Contact Us form to get help. FROST
is a science education and community-based research opportunity developed by
the Pennsylvania Climate Office at the Pennsylvania State University. If you
would like to learn more about this program, please contact:
State Climate Office
The Pennsylvania State University
605 Walker Building
University Park, PA 16802