Schoharie County is organizing a group of radio technicians to evaluate a half-dozen rain gauges that would have come in handy last year during Tropical Storm Irene’s pounding rainfall.
The National Weather Service already has volunteers with rudimentary rain gauges able to make reports in times of emergencies.
But the lack of power, Internet and telephone service during last year’s flooding hampered efforts to determine exactly how much rain was falling in the Schoharie Valley.
All the while, there were six nonfunctioning rain gauges positioned throughout the county that, if working, could have transmitted that information via radio.
Schoharie County Emergency Management Director Kevin Neary on Monday said his office is organizing an effort to check out the gauges and see what it would take to get them working again.
Emergency responders last year remarked on how quickly floodwaters were rising while they worked to evacuate residents. Their surprise was due in part to not knowing how much rain was falling.
Neary said real-time rainfall information can mean an important difference for residents and emergency responders.
“We can use this to alert people, as a basis for ordering evacuations and providing this information to the public,” he said.
The gauges were installed under the Integrated Flood Observing and Warning System, sparked by the development of the National Flash Flood Program Development Plan of 1978, according to the National Weather Service website.
Nationwide, there are 1,663 precipitation gauges still in use.
Another 111 of these gauges are out of service, including the six in Schoharie County, which are situated in Gallupville, Manorkill, Petersburg Tower, Seward, Summit Lake and Woodchuck Hill. A gauge just over the border in Huntersland, Albany County, also is not working.
Neary said it’s unclear yet what it might take to get the gauges operational again. He said he’s in contact with the Schoharie County Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, members of which have technical expertise that could be sufficient to evaluate the systems.
There might actually be nothing that needs to be done to the rain gauges other than dusting them off and turning them on.
“If not, we’ll find out what we need to do to make them functional,” Neary said.
The work is part of his goal to make use of existing technology and explore adding devices that can help both officials and residents make decisions during extreme weather events.
“People throughout this county want information so they can make good decisions on their own personal safety,” Neary said.