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.

A Science for Everyone, Community, Meteorology

With the April Run We Could Make Solid Comments on Snow Pack

My last year of snow surveys – 40 some years ago – was, in some ways, the hardest one. Jay Penney was out on medical leave with congestive heart failure, Tom Engel had transferred to Phoenix, and I was handling both the Flathead and Kootenai drainages with help from the Forest Service. I can’t say enough good about those guys – over six months, I’d meet a new sidekick daily, few that I’d work with twice, and only one screwed up a snowmobile – and I could still drive it out without a ski (the old Alpines had only one ski, and it didn’t take much of a blunder in reverse to break it off).

In April I could confidently comment on the status of the snowpack. Then, telemetry was new. Today, we have a website and the graph does a good job of showing how the snowpack data gets a lot more solid at the end of March.

This next graph does a great job of showing why the measurements are in snow-water equivalents instead of just the depth of snow.  The green peaks show individual snow storms, and how quickly the snow settles from the fluffy snowflakes.

So where are we?  As of 04/03/21, these are the numbers.

Snow WaterPercent of Average
Stahl Peak27.0 inches78 %
Grave Creek11.2 inches81 %
Banfield Mountain13.7 inches77 %
Hawkins Lake20.8 inches84 %
Garver Creek 8.8 inches96 %
Poorman Creek29.5 inches83 %

If I were running the numbers, I’d say we’re on the light side of normal – but it isn’t my call. It is interesting to note that none of my measurements are left in the 30-year average.

A Science for Everyone, Meteorology

Snow Pack on March 1

The long-term average for snow surveys were dated for the first of the month when I started measuring snow 45 years ago.  The old guys did it the hard way – up Burma Road early, skis or snowshoes to the Weasel Cabin, build a fire, sample the snow course, then overnight.  The next day they would head down the creek, then climb Stahl, build a fire, sample the snow course, then hike out the next morning, sample the course at Grave Creek, hike the rest of the way out and finish the job driving the pickup out.  As a modern, I drove a snowmobile and did 3 snow courses in a day.  Now I click a link on the home computer, and can look at the whole basin’s information in minutes.

The numbers from March 1 were kind of sacred – there had been enough winter that Jay Penney felt safe projecting the data – enough was in that he would comment that the snowpack was light, normal or heavy.

These are some of the snow courses I measured in those middle days, when we thought a snowmobile was absolutely modern, and were experimenting with measuring snow water at Noisy Basin with a radioactive source and receiver.  We were state of the art back then.     

ElevationWater EquivalentPercent of Average
Banfield Mountain5600 feet13.1 inches88%
Hawkins Lake6450 feet18.9 inches94%
Garver Creek4250 feet8.4 inches101%
Stahl Peak6030 feet24.4 inches86%
Grave Creek4300 feet13.1 inches87%
Poorman Creek5100 feet29.4 inches95%
Bear Mountain5400 feet45.6 inches87%
Hand Creek5035 feet9.2 inches102%
Noisy Basin6040 feet31.5 inches106%
To get to the data – and the map – you just click https://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/ . Making the data so available makes hydrology a science for everyone.
Community

Snow Pack on the light side of average

45 years ago, it took a week’s effort on a Ski-doo Alpine to get the data I can download in 10 minutes. We were high-tech then – two tracks and a single ski on each snow machine, and clockwork powering the recorders that kept track of the water equivalent setting on the snow pillow. Now there are fewer stations – and the missing Bald Eagle Peak data reminds me of the winter climbs up the mountain, carrying the heavy sampling tubes, on snowshoes. Probably the hardest work of all, and that data collection no longer maintained.

The simple description of the snowpack is that it is a bit lower than average, but next month will provide enough data for the NRCS hydrologist to start projecting data. We always tried to have the measurements done for the first of the month, so I looked on January 31. The ten-minute download from the places I once spent the better part of a week getting to is:

Water EquivalentPercent of Average
Banfield Mountain10.4 inches87%
Hawkins Lake15.5 inches96%
Garver Creek 7.1 inches103%
Stahl Peak20.7 inches89%
Grave Creek8.6 inches81%
Poorman Creek17.1 inches75%
Bear Mountain30.2 inches82%
Hand Creek6.0 inches81%
Noisy Basin23.0 inches90%

To get to the data – and the map – you just click https://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/ .  It also provides elevations of the sites so you can get a great idea of how the winter snow is up high.  Making the data so readily available makes hydrology a science for everyone.