A Science for Everyone, Meteorology

Monitoring Snow- the Easy Way

Times have changed.  In the seventies, I would have been up and out this morning to snowmobile in to Weasel Divide, Stahl Peak, and Grave Creek snow courses, and worked the details out in the evening in a Libby motel room.  Now, I can get the data in my kitchen by clicking a link.

So we’re going into February at 127% of average – 5 ½ inches of water more.  Something interesting happened between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm on January 27 – the snow depth reported went from 187 inches to 75 inches, while the snow water equivalent stayed the same at 27 inches.  This is why we carried so many spare parts on the back of the old Ski-doo Alpines – one ski up front, two tracks behind, and a small pickup bed behind the seat.  Monitoring equipment needs to be monitored.

DateTime PSTSnow Water Equivalent (inches)Snow Depth (inches)Snow Density (%)Precipitation To-Date (inches)Current Temperature (degrees F)

So what’s in store?  As the chart below shows, there isn’t enough data yet for projecting seasonal precipitation reliably on the first day of February.  Still, with the normal high around 39 inches on the first of May, we need only10 more inches of water to make it, spread over the next 90 days.

If you want more data relative to the upcoming temperature and precipitation projections, NOAA has the official long-lead forecasts available at:  cpc.ncep.noaa.gov

It looks like our temperatures will be a little below normal for March-April-May, leading to a bit slower snow melt.

The precipitation probability is also above average – so things look good for the Spring.

As I look back, it is easy to see how a career starting in snow surveys provided good experience as I moved into demography.  There really isn’t a lot of difference between projecting snow depth and human populations.

A Science for Everyone, Community, Meteorology

Time to Look at Snow

In the last half of the seventies, the Monday after Christmas was committed.  I would meet Jay Penney at Graves Creek, get into the Snow Survey crummy and then we would measure the snow depth at Weasel Divide, Stahl Peak, and Graves Creek.  It’s so long ago that none of our measurements remain in the 30 year average.  We were the moderns – 440 cc Skidoo Alpines, and clockwork recorders that measured the snow-water equivalents through the month – all we needed to do was wind the clock and pack the chart away.  The guys we followed had done things differently – drive up Burma Road, snowshoe or ski to Weasel Cabin, build a fire, measure the snow course, eat dinner, sleep, hike into Stahl the next morning, measure the snow course, camp in the lookout, hike down, measure Graves Creek, reach the road and drive back into town.

My work was transitory – duplicating the traditional measurement dates and working with new recorders, battery power, early solar cells, and working with the technology that would make us unnecessary. 

My work was easier than my predecessors.  I used snowshoes where I couldn’t take a snowmobile.  Today, the remote monitoring is so good that I can click the link, and learn what the snowpack is on Stahl without leaving the warmth of my house.  Try it, you’ll like it.  https://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/snowplot.cgi?STAM8

DateTime PSTSnow Water Equivalent (inches)Snow Depth (inches)Snow Density (%)Precipitation To-Date (inches)Current Temperature (degrees F)

Nearly 19 inches of water in 67 inches of snow – 28% density, and warming after a near-zero night.  Of course, this is what would have been the January 1 run, and definitely not the time to announce whether the year was a high or low snowpack.  The next chart replaces the hand-written notes that Jay carried when I started, or that I carried after congestive heart failure took him off fortyfive time – 045 was the code we used for time spent on snow surveys.

26% above the thirty-year median.  It’s a number, but if we use it, we’re projecting from too little data.  Things can change with January and February’s snows – but above the mean is good.  Full soil profiles are good for plant growth and delay the susceptibility to fire.  And the Corps of Engineers paid that fortyfive time to get information to manage the reservoirs.

The next chart shows the 30 year mean, average and this year’s numbers in the lines – but the shaded area shows the variance.  You may note that by August 1, the snow is always gone, but the chart shows that it has melted off by the first week of June. 

As an old man, it’s good to be able to keep up on the information.  We did haul a lot of equipment in and out on those Alpines to help move toward the automated systems we have today.