A Science for Everyone, Community

Electronic Visit to the Snow Course

It still amazes me that I can turn on the computer and, in 15 minutes, get the data that used to take a week’s work to obtain.  Of course it also amazes me that my work is so far in the past that it no longer shows up in the 30-year averages.  Still, some of that data – starting with my first run in the mid-seventies are still available:

As I look at the little squares on the left, I do see that Jay and I did measure the lowest year on this chart, back in 1977.

My closest snow courses are Stahl Peak and Grave Creek. Stahl is listed at 27.7 inches and 75% of average – but still significantly better than the 20-inches of water back in my youth.

Grave Creek is listed at 3.8 inches and 60% of average. 

Banfield Mountain shows 9.9 inches – 66% of average.  The chart shows that this is fairly close to the record low measurements.

Hawkins Lake, in the northwest corner of the county, shows 20.9 inches and 81% of the 30 year average.  The historic peaks chart shows that I measured the record low in 1977, and the snowpack is still above that.

Community

Measuring Snow is Easier Now

In the mid-seventies, I would start the week of snow surveys by leaving home a little before 7:00 am, meeting Jay Penney at Grave Creek, then snowmobiling up to Stahl Peak, Weasel Divide and then catching the Grave Creek on the way down.  After that it was a week of motel living as we would sample snow courses four more days, ending with Banfield Mountain.  Later in the decade, it would be 5 days in the Kootenai drainage, then 5 more in the Flathead.  By the end, we were going in by helicopter.

Forty and more years later it’s a lot easier.  The snow pillows are attached to improved versions of the telemetry we pioneered, and solar-powered batteries have replaced the clockwork scrolls that once monitored the pillows 24/7.  (A pillow is a bladder filled with antifreeze that is pressed upward in a well as more snow sits on it, and down as the snow melts.)

Today, there are fewer sites – and all it takes to check the snow depth is this web address: https://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/   It leads to a map, where you can click on a dot, read the snow/water equivalent, and learn the percentage of normal.  For example, as I write this, Stahl Peak shows 17.6” of snow/water equivalent, and is 103% of average.  Grave Creek matches the long-term average with 7.3 inches.  Hawkin’s Lake shows 110% of the long-term average with 12.8.  Give the site a try – we can all know how much snow is in the mountains, without leaving the living room. I thought it was easier for us with snowmobiles than our predecessors who did all the work on skis and snowshoes – but it is a whole lot easier now