Are you a super-observer? Lessons learned from the past four years

January 2024 - Led by Monica Arienzo and written by Sonia Nieminen  

Insights about the observers who submit the most reports strengthen our understanding of Mountain Rain or Snow.

Have you ever wondered how often other observers send in reports? Us, too – top participants play an important role for crowdsourced projects like ours, but until recently we knew little about Mountain Rain or Snow’s very own group of “super-observers.”

Super-observers: An incredible contribution

In the world of community-powered projects like Mountain Rain or Snow, researchers often seek to understand participation patterns of their contributors to better support volunteers and sustain projects’ growth. Consistently, research has shown that projects tend to have a group of top contributors - those individuals who participate substantially more than the vast majority of other volunteers - and without whom projects would receive far less input about the focus of the research. Knowing how important these super-observers are to crowdsourced projects, we set out to study Mountain Rain or Snow’s previous seasons to fill our knowledge gap about the project’s very own top observers.

To spot a super-observer, follow the data

To identify super-observers, we first calculated the average number of reports submitted per individual for each of Mountain Rain or Snow’s past four seasons. The results are shown in below. Interestingly, this average count was higher last season (2022-2023) than all of the previous three seasons.

The average amount of reports submitted per observer for each season. 

For the purpose of our study, we defined super-observers to be participants who submitted at least 1.5 times the average report count. For example, in the 2019-2020 season there was an average of ten reports per observer, so anyone who submitted 15 or more reports that year was identified as a super-observer. The graph on the left shows the proportion of all participants who were super-observers. Each column represents the whole group with super-observer proportion denoted by the darker shade. In the graph on the right, the proportion of all participants that were submitted by super-observers is shown. On average between all four seasons, super-observers were only 17% of observers, but they submitted 68% of precipitation reports!

The percentage of all participants who were super-observers for each season. 

The percentage of all observations that were submitted by super-observers each season.

They submitted HOW many?

Although the minimum report threshold was 1.5 times the average report count, some super-observers far exceeded this minimum. Let’s take a look at the top ten observers for the season ending in 2023, for which the minimum super-observer report count was 32:

A small group with a large impact

Overall, we learned that Mountain Rain or Snow’s super-observers make up a small proportion of all of the project’s observers, but they contribute a lot of the reports of snow, rain, and mixed precipitation. This is consistent with research from other community-powered projects. For example, a 2015 analysis of seven different projects involving thousands of participants each showed that on average, 79% of all data was submitted by only ten percent of volunteers (Sauermann & Franzoni, 2015). 

With our knowledge of Mountain Rain or Snow’s top contributors strengthened, we’re prepared to recognize changes in contribution patterns in future seasons, which is crucial for monitoring the project’s growth.

Your turn!

Another way we can sustain the project’s growth is by increasing the amount of reports submitted by each observer. Whether you were a super-observer last season or not, you can certainly become one this season. Can you challenge yourself to submit five more reports for the next storm than for the last? Here are a few tips for increasing your observation count:

Report while in transit. Most observations are made while at home. Next time you're in the passenger seat of a car or riding a bus/train, tell us what is falling from the sky!

Stuck in traffic on the way to the slopes? If you're in the passenger seat, send in some observations. Those high elevation reports are golden! 

Report consistently, even after the sun sets. We receive very few reports at night. If the storm continues, keep sending reports during non-daylight hours.

Headed somewhere rural or into the backcountry? Most observations are sent from urban areas. Can you help us diversify the geographic range?

Report every half hour during an important storm. No need to worry about sending in too many reports - the more, the better! Our quality control process flags reports with duplicate timestamps.

CHALLENGE: Report while (safely) skiing. The rapid change in elevation is a perfect opportunity to send multiple reports, including from the chair lift.

If you aren’t already receiving weather-related texts from us, sign up to get them! We’ll send reminders to report before storms reach your area and other helpful reminders for submitting frequent, quality observations. Sign up by texting your region’s keyword to 855-909-0798.


Sauermann, H., & Franzoni, C. (2015). Crowd science user contribution patterns and their implications. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(3). 

Mountain Rain or Snow logo with graphics of mountains, a snow crystal, and a rain drop.