How the pros measure the snow

By Andrew Freiden - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's been a season of joy for snow-lovers, who run out to the backyard to measure the flakes after each winter storm.

But there's a right way -- and a wrong way -- to measure the snow.

So where do those official readings come from? It's not as simple as just grabbing a ruler and sticking in the ground -- there's a science behind the fun of tallying snow.

"Going outside at 7 a.m., freezing rain, cold to take a measurement...that's when it becomes a little like work," said Parke Slater, a specially trained co-op observer for the National Weather Service in Wakefield.

He's just one of 60 observers in our area and one of 14,000 nationwide. He reports weather conditions every day of the year and has been for 10 years. Measuring temperature, rainfall, and of course snow.

"It can be monotonous. Everyone wants to report the big one," Slater said.

So how do you do it right? First, choose the right location. Avoid fences -- that's where snow drifts -- inflating your numbers.

But an wide-open field will lower the reading, wind blows will blow away snow as it's falling. A good spot is sheltered by nearby trees but not under them. And in a place where kids or pets won't disturb it.

Now, go make a snow board.

"Each day, we put this on top of the ground, it measures the new snowfall," Slater said.

Use a 2x2 board painted white to minimize snow melt -- with flags so you can find it when it's buried. By measuring on a snow board, you get consistent measurements on a hard surface. You can't push down your ruler into the grass or dirt to pump up your totals

"This is a marker to mark the location of the snow board," he said. "When you had a snow like we just had, it can be easy to lose its location."

After it snows, clean your snow board off and put on top of the old snow... And you are ready for the next snow day.

The official reading from Richmond International Airport comes from an FAA employee.

If you'd like to read the official weather service guidelines for measuring snow, find information about the Co-Op Observer program linked at right.

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