Benton Jackson often has his eyes on the skies.

Jackson pays close attention to the weather when he's sailing, gardening or flying a small plane. A web developer by profession, he calls himself an amateur scientist, an interest that grew out of bird watching.

Jackson, 60, puts that tendency to good use. Since 2019, he's been a member of a network of volunteer weather watchers, recording 1,338 observations so far of the rain, snow and hail that's falling around his home in Maple Grove.

"It's all about citizen science," Jackson said. "This provides witness data that scientists and climatologists can use to predict their weather better."

Weather-obsessed Minnesotans are the stalwarts of a nationwide network of climate observers. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, CoCoRaHS for short, began at Colorado State University in 1998 and now enlists more than 20,000 people to check rain and snow gauges on their properties.

Each March, there's a national competition among the 50 states to sign up new volunteers, and Minnesota hopes to win it in 2023 for the fourth year running, state climatologist Luigi Romolo said.

"Each year that we've won it, other states have asked us, 'What are you doing that's so special?' And we're not doing anything different really than anybody else," Romolo said. "I think it really is a testament to how committed Minnesotans are to citizen science."

Jackson figures that the wild swings in Minnesota's weather also have something to do with it.

"If you don't like the climate here in Minnesota, wait a few days, it'll change," Jackson said. "I think that makes people much more interested in recording what they are seeing."

In addition to measuring rain and snow, observers sometimes take core samples of snowpack and measure its liquid water content — a key metric for spring flooding predictions, Romolo said.

Meteorologists have modern tools like radar that can estimate rainfall or snow over broad areas. The National Weather Service also has official measuring stations at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, its office in Chanhassen and the University Minnesota's St. Paul campus as well as in New Hope, Rosemount and Stillwater.

But those estimates don't tell the whole story, said Michelle Margraf, a meteorologist with the NWS Chanhassen office and local CoCoRaHS coordinator.

Margraf said automated stations are great for collecting data such as temperature and wind speed, but when it comes to precipitation, "the most accurate readings come from manual measurement."

Even in population centers where there may already be many volunteers, like the Twin Cities, the weather record benefits. On Monday, the NWS reported that most of the metro area saw 2 to 3 inches. But a swath from the southwest metro area to Woodbury picked up 4 to 7 inches, readings that the NWS would not have had without its volunteer observers.

The biggest need is in rural areas, where the collected data not only helps to improve understanding of the weather but also track climatic trends.

Observations from CoCoRaHS volunteers "could be the difference of a farmer getting relief for losses due to drought or not," Romolo said.

Taking the measurements is "easy, simple and does not take more than five minutes a day," said observer Tina Taggart of Prior Lake.

Taggart, whose husband, Jim, is a NWS meteorologist, started as a CoCoRaHS volunteer 20 years ago when the couple lived in Missouri.

She has been a weather buff since childhood. Taggart met her husband while taking observations when the two were in meteorology school at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. But no degree is required to join CoCoRaHS.

The only requirements are to have an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions, a desire to learn more about how weather can affect lives, and access to the internet to report observations on the network's website, Margraf said.

Interested applicants can fill out a form at and find information there about buying the standard 4-inch rain gauge that all observers use.