Meteorology at Home: DIY Rain Gauge
Discovery Place Nature
One of the main signs of spring is a beautiful flower, but we don’t get flowers without the rain! Meteorologists measure rain every day. They need to verify forecasts and monitor for risks of flooding or drought.
How does it rain? Heat allows water to evaporate from all surfaces on the Earth, changing liquid water into water vapor gas. This gas can evaporate into the atmosphere from ponds, puddles, oceans and plants – from all things around us!
As that water vapor warms, it rises high up into the atmosphere. But it is much colder upstairs in the atmosphere, so the water vapor will cool and condense into water droplets.
These water droplets can become cloud droplets when they grow, collide and attach to a pollutant in the atmosphere…like dust, or pollen or pollution particles.
This keeps happening with multiple particles that also continue to collide into each other and grow. As more water condenses onto the droplets, they grow bigger and bigger.
When they get too heavy to stay suspended in the cloud, even with updrafts within the cloud, they fall to Earth as rain! Then the process happens all over again once we evaporate more moisture from the Earth. We call this the water cycle!
Clouds are the key element of the water cycle and the transporter of all the water. They are also important in determining how much of the sun’s energy is absorbed and trapped in the atmosphere.
As the climate warms, the water cycle is getting supercharged. Warmer air holds more moisture, more moisture means heavier rain. This has led to an increase in flooding events. Deluge days are increasing by 30% since the 1950s right here in the Carolinas.
Make Your Own Rain Gauge
You don’t have to leave it to the professionals; you can be a meteorologist too! You can make your own rain gauge with things you have right in your kitchen. Then just set your instrument outside and observe. Keep a log of your data so you can tally your rain by the storm, day, month and even year.
Age range: Elementary, middle school
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Learning time: 15 minutes
- 2-liter bottle
- 6” of masking tape
- Scotch tape
1. With the help of an adult, cut the top off the 2-liter bottle. Keep the top!
2. Flip the bottle top and put it in the bottle upside down like a funnel. Tape it in place if needed.
3. Use the ruler to accurately label 6” of masking tape.
4. Add one inch of water to keep the bottle from tipping. Put your masking tape at the top of the water line. Remember, this is your starting line when it rains.
5. Set your rain gauge outside to measure the rainfall!
Pro tip from a meteorologist: Keep a journal to tally your rain totals by each storm, day, month, season and year. This will help you learn about the rainfall climate of your own backyard!
Learn more about science within our atmosphere with a visit to Discovery Place Science!