Standard of rain gauge
The standard rain gauge, developed around the start of the 20th century, consists of a funnel attached to a graduated cylinder that fits into a larger container. If the water overflows from the graduated cylinder the outside container will catch it. When measurements are taken, the cylinder will be measured and then the excess will be put in another cylinder and measured. In most cases the cylinder is marked in mm and in the picture above will measure up to 25 mm (0.98 in) of rainfall. Each horizontal line on the cylinder is 0.2 mm (0.007 in). The larger container collects any rainfall amounts over 25 mm that flows from a small hole near the top of the cylinder. A metal pipe is attached to the container and can be adjusted to ensure the rain gauge is level. This pipe then fits over a metal rod that has been placed in the ground.
Weighing precipitation gauge
A weighing-type precipitation gauge consists of a storage bin, which is weighed to record the mass. Certain models measure the mass using a pen on a rotating drum, or by using a vibrating wire attached to a data logger. The advantages of this type of gauge over tipping buckets are that it does not underestimate intense rain, and it can measure other forms of precipitation, including rain, hail and snow. These gauges are, however, more expensive and require more maintenance than tipping bucket gauges.
The weighing-type recording gauge may also contain a device to measure the quantity of chemicals contained in the location's atmosphere. This is extremely helpful for scientists studying the effects of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere and their effects on the levels of the acid rain.
Tipping bucket rain gauge
The tipping bucket rain gauge consists of a large copper cylinder set into the ground. At the top of the cylinder is a funnel that collects and channels the precipitation. The precipitation falls onto one of two small buckets or levers which are balanced in same manner as a scale. After an amount of precipitation equal to 0.2 mm (0.007 in) falls, the lever tips and an electrical signal is sent to the recorder. The recorder consists of a pen mounted on an arm attached to a geared wheel that moves once with each signal sent from the collector. When the wheel turns the pen arm moves either up or down leaving a trace on the graph and at the same time making a loud click. Each jump of the arm is sometimes referred to as a 'click' in reference to the noise. The chart is measured in 10 minute periods (vertical lines) and 0.4 mm (0.015 in) (horizontal lines) and rotates once every 24 hours and is powered by a clockwork motor that must be manually wound.
The tipping bucket rain gauge is not as accurate as the standard rain gauge because the rainfall may stop before the lever has tipped. When the next period of rain begins it may take no more than one or two drops to tip the lever. This would then indicate that 0.2 mm (0.007 in) has fallen when in fact only a minute amount has. Tipping buckets also tend to underestimate the amount of rainfall, particularly in snowfall and heavy rainfall events. The advantage of the tipping bucket rain gauge is that the character of the rain (light, medium or heavy) may be easily obtained. Rainfall character is decided by the total amount of rain that has fallen in a set period (usually 1 hour) and by counting the number of 'clicks' in a 10 minute period the observer can decide the character of the rain.Correction algorithms can be applied to the data as an accepted method of correcting the data for high level rainfall intensity amounts.
Modern tipping rain gauges consist of a plastic collector balanced over a pivot. When it tips, it actuates a switch (such as a reed switch) which is then electronically recorded or transmitted to a remote collection station.
Tipping gauges can also incorporate weighing gauges. In these gauges, a strain gauge is fixed to the collection bucket so that the exact rainfall can be read at any moment. Each time the collector tips, the strain gauge (weight sensor) is re-zeroed to null out any drift.
To measure the water equivalent of frozen precipitation, a tipping bucket may be heated to melt any ice and snow that is caught in its funnel. Without a heating mechanism, the funnel often becomes clogged during a frozen precipitation event, and thus no precipitation can be measured. The Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) uses heated tipping buckets to measure precipitation.
These have a row of collection funnels. In an enclosed space below each is a laser diode and a photo transistor detector. When enough water is collected to make a single drop, it drips from the bottom, falling into the laser beam path. The sensor is set at right angles to the laser so that enough light is scattered to be detected as a sudden flash of light. The flashes from these photo detectors are then read and transmitted or recorded.