Here's what project director Nolan Doesken has to say:
Q: How can the DIY community help with this challenge?
Since CoCoRaHS began several years ago, the cost of the heavy-duty aluminum foil and the open core arts and crafts 12" x 12" x 1" squares of styrofoam that we use for measuring the dents from hail has tripled. It now costs well over $3 for each "pad" and that has greatly reduced the number of hail pads we can make and distribute. If anyone could come up with a do-it- yourself hail pad that was equally quantitative in documenting the number and size and orientation of hail stones while being inexpensive and easy to deploy, we're interested.
Q: Can you help explain how these footprints aid this project?
Hail pads do a marvelous job of showing the "foot prints" from hail. But hail falls infrequently and when it does its severity changes greatly over very short distances. You truly need thousands of hail pads (enough so you don't have to worry if they are all used and successfully retrieved) and people need to be comfortable viewing them as "important but disposable." If they (or some worthy equivalent) could be made really easily with materials that most anyone would have around the house, then I think we could engage many more people in helping us track and study hail.
Q: How do you translate hail imprints into usable data?
Up until now, we've collected the hail pads here and have a manual system where our students count the number and size of the stone indentations. Their results, along with a photo of each hail pad, are then posted on our site. An alternative approach that we've talked about is to try to use the eyes and intellects of volunteers and online images of the hail pads (so that all we need is photos rather than having all the pads shipped to us). We've tried using image-scanning technology, but the reflectivity of aluminum foil in combination with the complexity of dent patterns from overlapping craters has made that very difficult.
In sum, the biggest challenge for CoCoRaHs is finding a way to construct hail pads at an affordable cost. As Doesken mentions, the more hail pads volunteers can make, the more ground they can cover, and the more valuable the data would be for research. Help CoCoRaHs find a creative, DIY solution for this challenge so that volunteers anywhere can participate in this exciting project!
Got some ideas? Learn more about this challenge here.