Rain gauge

Rain gauge

A rain gauge (also known as a udometer or a pluviometer [fluviograph] or a cup) is a type of instrument used by meteorologists and hydrologists to gather and measure the amount of liquid precipitation (as opposed to solid precipitation that is measured by a snow gauge) over a set period of time.

Most rain gauges generally measure the precipitation in millimeters. The level of rainfall is sometimes reported as inches or centimeters.

Types of rain gauges include graduated cylinders, weighing gauges, tipping bucket gauges, and simple buried pit collectors. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages for collecting rain data.

Rain gauges have their limitations. Attempting to collect rain data in a hurricane can be nearly impossible and unreliable (even if the equipment survives) due to wind extremes. Also, rain gauges only indicate rainfall in a localized area. For virtually any gauge, drops will stick to the sides or funnel of the collecting device, such that amounts are very slightly underestimated, and those of .01 inches or .25 mm may be recorded as a trace.

Another problem encountered is when the temperature is close to or below freezing. Rain may fall on the funnel and freeze or snow may collect in the gauge and not permit any subsequent rain to pass through.

Rain gauge amounts are read either manually or by AWS (Automatic Weather Station). The frequency of readings will depend on the requirements of the collection agency. Some countries will supplement the paid weather observer with a network of volunteers to obtain precipitation data (and other types of weather) for sparsely populated areas.

In most cases the precipitation is not retained, however some stations do submit rainfall (and snowfall) for testing, which is done to obtain levels of pollutants.

Rain gauges, like most meteorological instruments, should be placed far enough away from structures and trees to ensure that any effects caused are minimised.


The first known records of rainfalls were kept by the Ancient Greeks about 500 B.C. This was followed 100 years later by people in India using bowls to record the rainfall. The readings from these were correlated against expected growth, and used as a basis for land taxes. In the Arthashastra, used for example in Magadha, precise standards were set as to grain production. Each of the state storehouses were equipped with a standardised rain gauge to classify land for taxation purposes. [The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India in Historical Outline; Kosambi, 1982 ISBN 978-0706913996]

Some sources state that the "Cheugugi" of Korea was the world's first gauge, while other sources say that Jang Yeong Sil developed or refined an existing gauge. [ [http://bueb125.com.ne.kr/san311.htm 장영실 ] ] [p. 97 Baek Seokgi. (1987). Woongjin Wi-in Jeon-gi #11 "Jang Yeong-sil". Woongjin Publishing.] [ [http://www.aasianst.org/EAA/connor.htm Education About Asia, Vol. 6, #2, Fall, 2001.] ] [ [http://www.prkorea.com/english/goguryeo4.htm Friendly Korea brief on Korean history] ] [http://www.weathershack.com/education/history-of-weather-observing-tools.html Weathershack history on rain gauge] ] [ [http://inventors.about.com/od/rstartinventions/a/Rain_Gauge.htm About.com Inventors] ]

In 1662 AD, Christopher Wren created the first tipping-bucket rain gauge in Britain.

tandard rain gauge

The standard rain gauge, developed around the start of the 20th century, consists of a funnel attached to a graduated cylinder that fits into a larger container. If the water overflows from the graduated cylinder the outside container will catch it. So when it is measured, the cylinder will be measured and then the excess will be put in another cylinder and measured. In most cases the cylinder is marked in mm and in the picture above will measure up to 25 mm (0.98 in) of rainfall. Each horizontal line on the cylinder is 0.2 mm (0.007 in). The larger container collects any rainfall amounts over 25 mm that flows from a small hole near the top of the cylinder. A metal pipe is attached to the container and can be adjusted to ensure the rain gauge is level. This pipe then fits over a metal rod that has been placed in the ground.

Weighing precipitation gauge

A weighing-type precipitation gauge consists of a storage bin, which is weighed to record the mass. Certain models measure the mass using a pen on a rotating drum, or by using a vibrating wire attached to a data logger. The advantages of this type of gauge over tipping buckets are that it does not underestimate intense rain, and it can measure other forms of precipitation, including rain, hail and snow. These gauges are, however, more expensive and require more maintenance than tipping bucket gauges.

The weighing-type recording gauge also contains a device to measure the quantity of chemicals contained in the location's atmosphere. This is extremely helpful for scientists studying the effects of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere and their effects on the levels of the acid rain.

Tipping bucket rain gauge

The tipping bucket rain gauge consists of a large copper cylinder set into the ground. At the top of the cylinder is a funnel that collects and channels the precipitation. The precipitation falls onto one of two small buckets or levers which are balanced in same manner as a scale (or child's seesaw). After an amount of precipitation equal to 0.2 mm (0.007 in) falls the lever tips and an electrical signal is sent to the recorder. The recorder consists of a pen mounted on an arm attached to a geared wheel that moves once with each signal sent from the collector. When the wheel turns the pen arm moves either up or down leaving a trace on the graph and at the same time making a loud click. Each jump of the arm is sometimes referred to as a 'click' in reference to the noise. The chart is measured in 10 minute periods (vertical lines) and 0.4 mm (0.015 in) (horizontal lines) and rotates once every 24 hours and is powered by a clockwork motor that must be manually wound.

The tipping bucket rain gauge is not as accurate as the standard rain gauge because the rainfall may stop before the lever has tipped. When the next period of rain begins it may take no more than one or two drops to tip the lever. This would then indicate that 0.2 mm (0.007 in) has fallen when in fact only a minute amount has. Tipping buckets also tend to underestimate the amount of rainfall, particularly in snowfall and heavy rainfall events [Groisman, P.Y. (1994): " [http://ams.allenpress.com/perlserv/?request=get-abstract&doi=10.1175%2F1520-0477(1994)075%3C0215:TAOUSP%3E2.0.CO%3B2 The Accuracy of United States Precipitation Data] ". Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 75(2): 215–227.] [ [http://www.usbr.gov/pn/agrimet/precip.html AgriMet Precipitation Measurements] ] . The advantage of the tipping bucket rain gauge is that the character of the rain (light, medium or heavy) may be easily obtained. Rainfall character is decided by the total amount of rain that has fallen in a set period (usually 1 hour) and by counting the number of 'clicks' in a 10 minute period the observer can decide the character of the rain.

Modern tipping rain gauges consist of a plastic collector balanced over a pivot. When it tips, it actuates a switch (such as a reed switch) which is then electronically recorded or transmitted to a remote collection station.

Tipping gauges can also incorporate weighing gauges. In these gauges, a strain gauge is fixed to the collection bucket so that the exact rainfall can be read at any moment. Each time the collector tips, the strain gauge (weight sensor) is re-zeroed to null out any drift.

To measure the "water equivalent" of frozen precipitation, a tipping bucket may be heated to melt any ice and snow that is caught in its funnel. Without a heating mechanism, the funnel often becomes clogged during a frozen precipitation event, and thus no precipitation can be measured Fact|date=July 2008. The Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) uses heated tipping buckets to measure precipitation [" [http://www.nws.noaa.gov/asos/tipbuck.htm The Tipping Bucket Rain Gauge] ". National Weather Service.]

Optical rain gauge

These have a row of collection funnels. In an enclosed space below each is a laser diode and a phototransistor detector. When enough water is collected to make a single drop, it drips from the bottom, falling into the laser beam path. The sensor is set at right angles to the laser so that enough light is scattered to be detected as a sudden flash of light. The flashes from these photodetectors are then read and transmitted or recorded.

ee also

* Automated airport weather station
* Snow gauge
* disdrometer
* millimeter


External links

* [http://cocorahs.org Report Local Rainfall across the United States here]
* [http://www.globe.gov/fsl/welcome/welcomeobject.pl Report Local Rainfall Worldwide here]
* [http://www.rainfallreports.com Record, Analyse, Share your rainfall here]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • rain gauge — n an instrument that is used for measuring the amount of rain that falls somewhere …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • rain gauge — rain ,gauge noun count a piece of equipment used for measuring the amount of rain that falls …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • rain gauge — rain′ gauge n. mer an instrument for measuring rainfall • Etymology: 1760–70 …   From formal English to slang

  • rain gauge — n. an instrument for measuring rainfall …   English World dictionary

  • rain gauge — noun gauge consisting of an instrument to measure the quantity of precipitation • Syn: ↑rain gage, ↑pluviometer, ↑udometer • Hypernyms: ↑gauge, ↑gage * * * an instrument for measuring rainfall. Also called pluviometer. [ …   Useful english dictionary

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  • rain gauge — A device to measure the quantity of rain that has fallen at a given location. It consists of a receiver in which an inner tube is located. The falling rain is fed into the inner tube through the receiver and the total quantity measured by a… …   Aviation dictionary

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