Rain gauges though the years

(ARIZONA'S WEATHER AUTHORITY) -- Rain gauges aren't new, but they're getting better every day. History dates rudimentary rain collectors to 400 BCE in Greece and India. And in the 1400s, rain collectors were used regularly in Korea in an effort to coordinate the best time to plant.

Rain gauges aren't very complicated, or at least they don't have to be. An easy trick to know how much rain has fallen at your house is to use a tuna can (or any jar or can with the same size opening at the top and bottom). After it rains, stick a ruler in there, and you have a pretty good idea of how much rain fell.

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Back in the 1600s, rain gauges started getting more complicated. Tipping buckets were added so folks could count the rain AS it fell. Here's a picture of a modern mechanism.

Tipping bucket mechanism

The "tipping bucket" mechanism inside many rain gauges is fairly simple.

As one side fills up, gravity tips the bucket and the rainfall is measured. Then the other side starts filling up. That technology hasn't changed much over the years. Here is a photo of an old-time, early-1900s tipping bucket rain gauge from my collection; it's made mainly of copper.

Tipping Bucket rain gauge circa 1900

This one automatically added up the rain, but you still had to go outside to check it. It still works, too.

And then there's the Big Daddy of them all, the standard copper weather gauge the National Weather Bureau, now Weather Service, used for more than a century. In fact, in many locations, this type of rain collector, with its 8-inch opening, is still in use, but you have to measure by hand.

[WAY BACK WHEN: Before you had live radar in the palm of your hand, there were weather kiosks]

National Weather Bureau copper rain gauge

From my collection, this copper bucket also sports a brass top. The inner tube is where the water collects. But you need to hand measure with these old clunkers.

But over at Sky Harbor International Airport, this is what the current rain gauge looks like.

[SPEAKING OF THE AIRPORT: Why all this weather talk about Sky Harbor?]

Rain gauge at Sky Harbor Airport

We took this photo a couple of years ago. They don't like folks on the airport grounds much these days.

See all the fins around the opening? That's supposed to help counter the effects of wind on rain but guess what? Inside of all of that, there's a tipping bucket mechanism counting our rainfall 24/7.

[MORE ABOUT RAIN: Phoenix Rainfall Index looks at the big rain picture]

Korean rain gauge

Reproduction of Korean rain gauge from 1400s

3TV Chief Meteorologist Royal Norman always has his eye on the radar and how weather conditions might affect the people of Arizona.  He also loves telling those quintessential stories that are uniquely Arizona. With 35 years of experience forecasting weather and his vast knowledge of Arizona and its micro climates, Royal is an Arizona Weather Authority. 

Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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