National Drought Mitigation Center


New map shows the location of weather and water stations across the West

July 14, 2022

A new tool, collaboratively developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Northwest and Southwest Climate Hubs and the National Drought Mitigation Center, shows the location of weather and water stations, along with valuable reference information, the West.

For more than two years, areas of the Northwest have experienced abnormally dry and drought conditions. Meanwhile, swaths of the Southwest are gripped by what some have called the worst megadrought in over a thousand years. These conditions have necessitated additional coordination among state drought experts across the West, as well as new resources to assess and track local drought conditions on the ground. A new resource, collaboratively developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Northwest and Southwest Climate Hubs and the National Drought Mitigation Center, works toward those goals by illuminating gaps in monitoring stations.

The Overview of Weather Water Land Sites, or OWWLS, is a static map of the location of weather stations, stream gauges, reservoirs and ground water monitoring stations across much of the West. By mapping where these stations are, the tool helps highlight the areas with limited or no coverage of weather and water data. Identifying these gaps will help climate service providers and partners determine where to deploy future stations and target campaigns to recruit citizen scientists for volunteer initiatives like CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network.

“If people see these monitoring gaps, and see where data are lacking, then maybe we can get momentum to help fill those underserved areas with useful information,” said Tonya Bernadt, education and outreach specialist for the National Drought Mitigation Center.

The Northwest Climate Hub region spans a large climatic and geographic range from Alaska to Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Holly Prendeville, the coordinator for the Northwest Climate Hub, points out that across this large region exists a variety of forests, rangelands and agricultural communities, all of which can benefit from fine-grained data to assess local conditions.

OWWLS shows networks of weather and water stations, many of which provide critical data for the U.S. Drought Monitor. Some are volunteer networks like CoCoRaHS. Others are managed by various government agencies like WaterWatch, a network of stream gauges monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey, or RAWS, the Remote Automatic Weather Stations established by the National Interagency Fire Center. There’s also the Cooperative Observer Network (COOP) from the National Weather Service, Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and several other data networks. Together, the various stations displayed in OWWLS provide information on a variety of weather parameters, including snowpack, precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, ground water depth, streamflow and reservoir storage.

Despite the number of networks collecting this kind of information, Bernadt and Prendeville both say that, previously, it was difficult to visualize all the stations in one place to determine where data are available and where more data are needed. OWWLS now makes that easier, though it does not include all the resources used by U.S. Drought Monitor authors, such as satellite and other gridded climate data.

Users of OWWLS can view stations individually by source or view multiple networks at once. They can also overlay reference spatial data, like counties or census areas, watersheds, radar coverage, land ownership, land use and USDA Risk Management Agency payments for weather-related causes of crop loss. This additional information provides valuable context on where to place future weather and water stations to ensure a diversity of data locations.

“Our partners have seen a draft of OWWLS and are excited to have all these data pulled together in one place, to get that overall perspective,” said Prendeville.

Another goal of creating OWWLS is to help improve drought communication among states and better understand conditions along state borders. Thus, several states adjacent to the Northwest Climate Hubs, including Montana, Wyoming, and California, were also included into OWWLS. The Drought Center anticipates expanding coverage to other climate hubs and regions. For now, the team will be taking the map to partners in the Northwest to talk about OWWLS, the U.S. Drought Monitor and how they can get involved to improve drought monitoring.

Explore OWWLS:

-- Leah Campbell, NDMC Communications