Duane Friend pointing to a PPT screen with a weather map

University of Illinois leverages the power of weather-watching for the Master Naturalist Program

Story by Duane Friend, Illinois Master Naturalist Coordinator and Climate Specialist

People have long had a fascination with the weather and storms. Storms can impact field crops, when you can get out into the field, and even your weekend plans. And there is something inherently compelling about watching a storm roll-in. With the University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Program, volunteer naturalists can put their weather-watching and monitoring skills to good use.

Duane Friend teaching a master naturalist class

Duane Friend teaching a master naturalist class

The mission of the University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Program is to provide science-based educational opportunities that connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards. The program educates and trains adult volunteers, so they are better equipped to share natural resource information with others in their communities and to assist with environmental conservation and restoration activities.

To become a Certified Master Naturalist, participants must complete the Master Naturalist course which combines field activities, presentations from subject experts, and reading of curriculum chapters.  Following the training participants must complete volunteer service hours to continue to be certified and there are several volunteer service programs that include weather monitoring – Community Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) Network, National Weather Service Storm Spotter program, and Illinois River Watch.

Rain gauge with a rainbow in the background.

A CoCoRaHS rain guage used to measure daily rainfall.

CoCoRaHS (pronounced KO-ko-rozz) is a grassroots volunteer network of weather observers working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities.  The network is multi-national, with over 24,000 active observers in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas.

Data for volunteer monitoring is used by researchers and entities such as NASA and NOAA.  Scientists and educators have been using CoCoRaHS data to help validate satellite estimates of rainfall, soil moisture and evapotranspiration.  Media services in many parts of the country use CoCoRaHS data to provide more detail on local storm patterns.

The National Weather Service SKYWARN® Storm Spotter program is a volunteer program with between 350,000 and 400,000 trained severe weather spotters nationwide. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service.

The information provided by SKYWARN® spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite, and other data, has enabled the National Weather Service to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods.

Duane Friend talking to a group pointing in the sky

Duane Friend talks with a group of Master Naturalist about weather patterns.

Illinois RiverWatch safeguards the future of Illinois rivers and streams through stewardship, education, and sound science. RiverWatch utilizes trained volunteers to collect quality assured data on wadeable streams and fosters coordination among groups involved in similar monitoring efforts.

Data collected by RiverWatchers enriches the scientific data record by filling gaps in times and places that scientists are unable to monitor. Long-term datasets can help land managers make informed decisions on ecosystem restoration, water resource protection, and invasive species control.

In cooperation with the Illinois State Climatologist, we are also looking at using our volunteers to help increase the density of evapotranspiration (ET) monitoring within the state.  As an important indicator in many natural and agricultural settings, measuring evapotranspiration is a vital component of water and groundwater management.  Increasing the density of monitoring for ET would improve forecasting flash droughts in localized areas within the state.

All these programs provide important water and climate related data for agencies and researchers and help meet the volunteer and continuing education requirements for Master Naturalist volunteers.

For more information, contact Duane Friend.

Duane Friend, Illinois Extension

Headshot of Duane FriendDuane Friend is the State Master Naturalist and Climate Change Specialist with University of Illinois Extension. He has been with Illinois Extension since 1993. From 2011 to 2022 he served as an Environmental and Energy Stewardship Educator in Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan and Scott counties. From 1997 to 2011, Friend was a Natural Resources Management Extension Educator, and prior to that, he was a unit-based educator. He has also been a County Executive Director for the Farm Services Agency, and a resource conservationist for a Soil and Water Conservation District.

Friend is a member of the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) and served as president of the Illinois chapter in 1998. He is also a member of the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals (ANREP).

Some of Duane’s professional awards include the Honor Award from SWCS, gold and bronze awards from ANREP, and an Excellence in Extension Award for educational programming, a Society Service Award from the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

Duane Friend provides information and educational programs to adult and youth audiences in the areas of soil quality, weather and climate, energy conservation, and disaster preparedness. These programs provide practical solutions for families, farms, and communities.  He assists families in creating a household emergency plan, farmers with the implementation of soil management and conservation practices, and local government officials and business owners with energy conservation techniques.

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