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Comparing Rain-Gauge Data with Radar-Derived Precipitation Estimates

Christopher J. Woltemade and Diane Stanitsky-Martin

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Student teams collect rain-gauge data and compared it with radar-derived (NEXRAD) precipitation estimates. They use GIS to look for discrepancies between the two datasets and explain them by looking for sources of error in the method. The project culminates in a presentation by the students. The project has since expanded to include units dealing with local hydrology.

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Learning Goals


  • Need to ground-truth remote observations
  • Challenges of obtaining accurate field data
  • Local variation in precipitation (esp. in mountainous terrain)


  • quantitative skills
  • using GIS
  • field observations

Context for Use

This is a semester-long project, based on multiple observations.

Teaching Materials

A detailed lesson plan for Comparisons of NEXRAD radar and precipitation gauge values (more info) is provided by the authors.

This project cost the authors $500 to cover:

The institution presumably had other funding for the GIS lab and software.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity will require a great deal of training for the students, and will require a lot of time and attention on the instructor's part, so may not be suitable for a large class, especially if there are no teaching assistants available.


This project was first run with only four students, so they could be closely supervised by the graduate student on whose project they were working. A presentation similar to those given at professional conferences was deemed appropriate.

References and Resources

This project was designed as part of the Burd Run Interdisciplinary Watershed Research Laboratory (more info)

This exercise is described in Woltemade, C.J. and Stanitsky-Martin, D. 2002. A student-centered field project comparing NEXRAD and rain gauge precipitation values in mountainous terrain. Journal of Geoscience Education 50(3): 296-302.


Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Meteorology:Clouds and precipitation, Geoscience:Hydrology:Surface Water, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Meteorology:Measurements

Resource Type

Activities:Field Activity:Importation of field observations into the classroom, Research experiences for students, Activities:Field Activity, Field Activity:Field trip

Special Interest

Field-Based Teaching and Learning, Remote Sensing, GIS

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use:Meets Peer Review Standard:Anonymous Peer Review, Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Atmosphere, Hydrology, Surface Water, Atmosphere:Weather


Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field, Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Water, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Atmospheric Science, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Weather, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Hydrology/Hydrogeology