Existing methods for dynamic calibration of tipping-bucket rain gauges (TBRs) can be time consuming and labor intensive. A new automated dynamic calibration system has been developed to calibrate TBRs with minimal effort. The system consists of a programmable pump, datalogger, digital balance, and computer. Calibration is performed in two steps: 1) pump calibration and 2) rain gauge calibration. Pump calibration ensures precise control of water flow rates delivered to the rain gauge funnel; rain gauge calibration ensures precise conversion of bucket tip times to actual rainfall rates. Calibration of the pump and one rain gauge for 10 selected pump rates typically requires about 8 h. Data files generated during rain gauge calibration are used to compute rainfall intensities and amounts from a record of bucket tip times collected in the field. The system was tested using 5 types of commercial TBRs (15.2-, 20.3-, and 30.5-cm diameters; 0.1-, 0.2-, and 1.0-mm resolutions) and using 14 TBRs of a single type (20.3-cm diameter; 0.1-mm resolution). Ten pump rates ranging from 3 to 154 mL min-1 were used to calibrate the TBRs and represented rainfall rates between 6 and 254 mm h-1 depending on the rain gauge diameter. All pump calibration results were very linear with R2 values greater than 0.99. All rain gauges exhibited large nonlinear underestimation errors (between 5% and 29%) that decreased with increasing rain gauge resolution and increased with increasing rainfall rate, especially for rates greater than 50 mm h-1. Calibration curves of bucket tip time against the reciprocal of the true pump rate for all rain gauges also were linear with R2 values of 0.99. Calibration data for the 14 rain gauges of the same type were very similar, as indicated by slope values that were within 14% of each other and ranged from about 367 to 417 s mm h-1. The developed system can calibrate TBRs efficiently, accurately, and virtually unattended and could be modified for use with other rain gauge designs. The system is now in routine use to calibrate TBRs in a large rainfall collection network at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
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A new method for automated dynamic calibration of tipping-bucket rain gauges