As many of you know there are three traditional types of rain gauge, the graduated cylinder rain gauge, the weighing rain gauge, and the tipping bucket rain gauge. All of these types collect or measure the amount of rainfall in some way.
The graduated cylinder is very simple, with a funnel that leads into a narrow cylinder (usually clear), with markings regarding the amount of precipitation.
A weighing gauge determines the rainfall by weighing the amount of water in a bucket:
And then there is the tipping bucket rain gauge in which water fills cups that can only hold .01 inches of rain. When filled, they tip, causing a signal to be sent from a small switch. These gauges need a power source and a device to record the "tips." Tipping bucket gauges are none for "undercatch" during periods of heavy rain, since rain can missed during the tips. They also can have issues with bugs and debris.
Hydreon Corporation, this rain gauge is based on the interactions of infrared beams with water falling on a lens.
Water on the lens allows infrared radiation to escape, which can be sensed by the electronic. This device is relatively inexpensive (about $60) and is related to rain sensors used in cars with automatic wind shield wipers. Interested, I talked to Professor Joel Thornton of my department, who co-teaches the instruments class, and he ordered one. Dr. Thornton gave the unit to some very enthusiastic and capable undergraduates, who got the unit hooked up to a computer and attached a power supply. They will be analyzing the quality of this device's rainfall estimates during the next quarter.
Some of the first results are shown below (courtesy of Neal Johnson of my department). The x-axis shows hourly precipitation from the new unit and the y axis is the amount from a traditional tipping bucket gauge. Not terrible, but the new unit seems to overdo the rainfall for heavier amounts (a perfect match would be found along he red line) We hope to get more of these units and see if we can determine and apply a reasonable calibration to them.