March Madness isn’t just for basketball.

Area residents are invited to become volunteer weather observers, joining a network of volunteers across the state that helps provide a better understanding of local weather and climate patterns through daily rain measurements.

Join the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) program during the month of March and you can also help North Carolina take over the lead in the program’s annual March Madness recruitment effort.

As of March 16, North Carolina fell just behind Florida and Minnesota in number of new recruits, with 45 new members. Florida held the lead with 58 new volunteers.

David Glenn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Newport and co-coordinator for the state CoCoRaHS program, said they enjoy the friendly competition, but the need for volunteers is an ongoing one.

Glenn said the number of volunteers fluctuates for many reasons, from participants losing interest or moving to a different area and not being able to continue, making the annual recruitment effort a crucial one.

“We want to make sure we maintain the health of our network,” Glenn said.

As a military community, the Onslow County area is a transient one that also sees fluctuations in numbers for that reason.

“In Onslow County we have 13 active members, which is down from 2015, when we had 28 active members,” Glenn said.

Glenn said volunteers are needed throughout Onslow County and across the state, particularly in more rural areas and along the coast.

Glenn said one of the big users of the data from the CoCoRaHS program is the state’s Shellfish Sanitation program, which looks at observations when determining the need for temporary closures of local waters to shellfish harvesting after heavy rains.

For this reason, having more volunteers in area such as North Topsail Beach, the Swansboro/Hubert area and on the barrier islands is important.

All that is needed to be a volunteer is the interest and an official rain gauge, which can be obtained at cocorahs.org for about $30 plus the cost of shipping.

Volunteers take a simple training module online and use the CoCoRaHS website or mobile app to record their observations. Their observations are immediately available on maps and reports that the public can view.

Glenn said the National Weather Service uses the information daily as do many other agencies and researchers.

“There are probably many users that we are not even aware of,” he said.

The observations by CoCoRaHS volunteers can help provide a better picture of the precipitation patterns across the state while filling in gaps where weather stations may not be located.

“An additional benefit of the program to the National Weather Service is the ability to receive timely reports of significant weather (hail, intense rainfall, localized flooding) from CoCoRaHS observers that can assist forecasters in issuing and verifying warnings for severe thunderstorms,” Glenn said.

For more information, visit the North Carolina CoCoRaHS program via Facebook and Twitter.