Measuring rainfall and humidity in the field in Niger

© IRD/Luc Descroix

The old chief and the rain gauge


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Updated 31.03.2022

When instructions are taken very seriously

“Perfection can be the enemy of good in hydrology as in any other field. The efforts of a village chief in Guinea provided me with an illustration of this fact that now, after the fact, I can admit is amusing. 

In the mid-1980s, we installed automated rain gauges in the Gambia River Basin, specifically in the Guinean region of Fouta-Djalon. Our goal was to gather more precise information on the climate and to track any changes to it. The rain gauges collect water from precipitation in a cone oriented towards the sky and then measurements of the amounts collected are sent via an Argos transmitter. As always, I spoke with the chief in the neighbouring village, advising him to take care of the instrument, thinking this would help prevent thefts and ensure that the materials did not degrade.

Later, we were surprised to find that this receptor did not send any information. In fact, the transmitter was sending information, but the device was not registering any rain even though other equipment in the area was recording regular precipitation.

When we visited the site several months later to inspect our instruments and perform any necessary maintenance, we got to the bottom of this mysterious local climate anomaly. Our very conscientious chief had a straw hut built around the rain gauge to better protect it! Thanks to his vigilance, the gauge was very much protected from the rain...” 

by Luc Descroix, a hydrologist