updated 1/16/2007 11:30:18 AM ET 2007-01-16T16:30:18

Satellites have not yet replaced the humble rain gauge when it comes to collecting weather data in the United States, and scientists Monday said they intend to expand the network over the next few years.

Under the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS program, volunteers measure the amount of rain in their backyard gauges on a daily basis and add the information to an online database.

The monitoring network, overseen by Colorado State University, plans to beef up its army of volunteers to 20,000 nationwide by 2010 from the current 2,500 in 14 states.

“With all the advances we’ve had in the science of weather observations over the past several decades, there is still nothing that can compare to the human observer,” said Bruce Sullivan, a coordinator of the program and a scientist with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

Meteorologist Henry Reges, the program’s national coordinator, said, “It gives us a finer mesh of what is happening. It brings the data down to a micro level.”

The program was launched in 1997 and organizers say it has provided vital information on drought and rain patterns.

A more accurate portrait of rainfall patterns emerges because showers can be very scattered and vary greatly over small areas of land.

In Indiana, timely reports of hail from network volunteers have regularly helped forecasters in issuing and verifying warnings for severe thunderstorms.

Plans to expand the network with the help of a NOAA grant were announced at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in San Antonio, Texas.

Information about the program is online at www.cocorahs.org/

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