Despite the El Niño forecast, there are bound to be storms. And the dry, hot summer means stressed trees are more likely to topple.
From the roof of South Seattle’s Aki Kurose Middle School, you can look down on nearby homes, streets and a couple of ballfields.
You can also see — smack-dab in the middle of the roof — one of the hardest-working rain gauges in the city, a 16-inch gray metal cylinder that looks like something from an Army-Navy surplus store, with two cables coming out from underneath it and spikes on top to keep the birds away.
“Tipping-bucket rain gauges. They’re old, but they’re reliable,” said James Rufo-Hill, “climate-adaptation specialist” for Seattle Public Utilities.
“Take Winter by Storm” recommends preparing three emergency kits — one each for home, car and work — that include:
• Flashlight and batteries
• Radio and extra batteries
• First-aid supplies
• A three-day supply of nonperishable food and bottled water per person
• Fire extinguisher
Other foul-weather tips
• Keep storm drains in your neighborhood clear of leaves and other debris.
• Clean gutters and downspouts and direct flows away from the house.
• Never use charcoal or gas grills indoors, or run generators indoors.
• Stay away from downed power lines and report them to your local utility.
“Take Winter by Storm,” Online: Many more tips and emergency contacts at ; Facebook: Take Winter By Storm; Twitter @WinterByStorm
The gauge atop the school has been in service in several different locations since 1965.
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Rufo-Hill is showing off this low-tech device as part of a public-private campaign called Take Winter by Storm, encouraging Puget Sound-area residents to prepare for the inevitable wind, rain and cold coming in the next few months.
You may have heard the news that an El Niño climate condition points to a warmer and drier winter, overall, in the Northwest.
But Ted Buehner, the National Weather Service’s warning-coordination meteorologist, said every winter has its storms, and some of the fiercest have hit Western Washington in El Niño winters.
The hot, dry summer the Northwest experienced actually increased at least one storm danger, because trees stressed by a lack of moisture are more likely to crack or topple.
That threat was made clear in late August’s unseasonal windstorm in which falling trees and branches killed a Gig Harbor man and a 10-year-old Burien girl, and cut power to hundreds of homes and businesses.
Take Winter by Storm, in its ninth year, circulates tips, checklists and helpful information on everything from what to stock in a family emergency kit to how to help your pets get through the cold weather.
Its website also points toward ways that residents can sign up to receive alerts about road and highway problems.
In Seattle, 17 rain gauges such as the one on Aki Kurose add detail to the broad-brush description of Seattle as one location.
The data show that the city actually has a half-dozen different microclimate zones, with average annual rainfall varying from 32 to 40 inches.
Rufo-Hill said hills and ridges, including the Olympic Mountains and even local heights of Queen Anne and Magnolia, tend to squeeze moisture out of clouds, protecting areas directly downwind of them.
Seattle’s driest section is a crescent of land along Elliott Bay, which gets some “rain-shadow” protection from the hills of Magnolia.
Rainfall amounts increase to the south and east. And no place in the city is rainier than — perhaps appropriately — Rainier Beach.
The gauge on Aki Kurose collects about 38 inches of rain a year.
Inside the 7-inch diameter contraption is a device akin to a small teeter-totter with a shallow bucket at each end. When the bucket on one end fills with water, it drops downward, spilling its contents and triggering an electric signal.
The process is repeated as the other bucket fills up. So if you know how often those signals are sent, you know how much rain is falling.
When it snows, snow sits atop the gauge until it melts, then drops inside. That information is added to other observations to get a more complete picture of snow volume.
Rufo-Hill said rain readings from the gauges can be used in real-time to help deploy crews to ensure storm drains and pump stations can handle what’s headed their way.
And longer term, it can help set priorities and strategies for future projects.
A half-dozen newer gauges are being added in Seattle this winter to further refine the picture.