Rain Gauge Buying Guide
Types of Rain Gauge Shapes
The easiest and most reliable way to measure the amount of rainfall you are getting is to purchase a good quality rain gauge. There are many different types of gauges on the market to choose from. We have listed the different styles below along with some information about each type so you can tell them apart and determine which style meets your needs and preferences the best.
- Wedge – What usually determines the type of rain gauge it is, is the opening on top. This affects how the rain is caught and measured. A wedge rain gauge will be wider at the top than it is at the bottom. This type of rain gauge requires manual reading.
- Digital – This type of rain gauge can collect rainfall from outside and uses a sensor that is on the interior that provides accurate readings of the moisture collected. Depending on the model, digital rain gauges can track the rainfall yearly, weekly, daily or monthly.
- Cylindrical – A cylindrical rain gauge is also read manually, like a wedge rain gauge. The only different is the shape which is cylindrical and measures the same at the top as it does at the bottom.
Types of Rain Gauges
There are several ways that rain gauges measure rainfall. We have listed the different types below so you can decide which measuring style you prefer.
- Manual style rain gauges – The oldest type of rainfall gauge is a tube that is vertical with a closed bottom and open top. There are graduations on the side that measure in inches and/or millimeters. Over time, rain is collected and the readings will need to be manually read and then emptied. It is best to empty the gauge on a daily basis after recording the day’s rainfall. Some types of manual rain gauges have both an inner and outer tube. The outer tube is an overflow tube and helps keep accurate readings even in a downpour. Manual rain gauges are typically accurate to within 1/100th of an inch and are usually labeled the gold standard of all rain gauges.
- Weighing Style Rain gauges – This type of rain gauge collects moisture in a container that is placed on top of a scale. The rainfall is weighed every so often and the information is recorded by a logger or by a pen if the model is older. Weighing style rain gauges are very accurate for measuring high intensity precipitation. They can also be used to measure snow, hail and sleet. This type of rain gauge is the most accurate but can also be the most expensive type of rain gauge on the market.
- Tipping Bucket Style Rain Gauges – The most widely available and commonly purchased type of rain gauge is the tipping bucket style. This type of rain gauge has two small containers that are located next to each other but only one container is exposed to the funnel of the gauge at a time. When a container fills up to a specific volume the bucket tips and dumps out the water, exposing the other container so it can be filled. The measurements are recorded by the number of tips that the containers have. Bucket volume is calibrated and each tip of the container matches a small, fixed amount of rainfall. It will usually be .1mm or .01 inch. This type of rain gauge is a lot less accurate than other types due to the possibility of the container not emptying fully when it tips.
- Acoustic Style Rain Gauges – Acoustic rain gauges work by counting the number of drops that fall onto a plate that is above a special sensor. Each drop generates an acoustic signal that will vary according to the size of the raindrop. The cumulative total of the signals over a specific period of time is the same as the amount of rain that hit the sensors. This type of rain gauge can easily distinguish between hail and rain due to the difference in the acoustic signature. Acoustic rain gauges are maintenance free, and have no moving parts. They are not as accurate when the rainfall is heavy. They are not used as often as tipping buckets are.
There are several factors that you will want to consider when you are looking for the right rain gauge for your needs. These considerations will determine how long the rain gauge lasts, how easy it is to use, how accurate it is and other factors. There are other purchase considerations you will want to think about as well. We have listed all of these considerations below.
- Outdoor Durability – A lot of the rain gauges on the market are made from inexpensive plastic that doesn’t do well in extremely cold climates. If your rain gauge will be outdoors all the time in all kinds of temperatures, you will want to opt for a rain gauge that is made from heavy-duty materials that can withstand the weather and climate.
- Capacity – the majority of rain gauges can measure several inches of rain at once. If your area is prone to heavy rains this is very important to ensure accurate measurements. Make sure that the capacity your rain gauge has matches your areas usual rainfall. It is better to have too much room than not enough.
- Visibility – There are many different sizes of rain gauges to choose from. If your rain gauge is set up and installed somewhere where you will be reading it from inside, make sure it is large enough for you to see the graduations on the outside clearly from indoors.
- Mounting Hardware – Some rain gauges are free-standing but the majority is designed to be mounted on a post, wall or some other structure. Some are on long stakes that get driven into the ground. Decide where you want to mount the rain gauge and determine whether you want a free-standing model on a pole or one that gets mounted on the wall or post.
- Decorative Style – Many rain gauges are very decorative in nature and can have leaves, frogs and many other designs. These can add a lot of beauty to your yard or garden and are still functional too.
- Replacement Parts – Sometimes even the heartiest of rain gauges can break. Make sure you choose a rain gauge that is easy to replace or find replacement pieces for should something break. You can also look for rain gauges that have warranties that will protect against manufacturer’s defects.
Weather watching is a passion for many people and for others it is a matter of their livelihood. It doesn’t matter why you want or need to track rainfall, what matters is that you choose a reliable, accurate and durable rain gauge that will give you the right readings easily and with minimal hassle.
There are many different options for you to choose which makes finding that perfect rain gauge a real challenge if you don’t know what to look for. The information in this guide is designed to help you understand the differences in shape, measuring style and looks so you can pick the perfect rainfall gauge for your needs. Be sure to think about things like how long you want it to last and whether you want an old school style rain gauge or a more high tech design with bells and whistles.
You also want to think about your location. Heavy rain areas will do better with a heavy duty rain gauge with a large capacity to handle all the moisture. If your climate is mostly dry, you can get away with a smaller and less expensive style of rain gauge. Also consider if you are in a marine environment. An inexpensive rain gauge used near the ocean can incur a lot of salt corrosion.
If you are in harsh climates, consider a high quality tipping bucket design or acoustic style for the most accurate readings. Now that you know the different types and styles, you will be able to choose a rain gauge accurately based on need, region, weather and other factors.