Be a snow scientist: The complete kid guide to measuring snow

Snow Conditions

Snow in Rockford on Dec. 11, 2016. (Holly Mattson/ReportIt)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Snow accumulation reports are one of the most valuable ways viewers can help meteorologists in winter.

Technology has never been more sophisticated when it comes to science and meteorology. We use high-definition satellite imagery, thousands of weather stations, advanced radar technology and in some cases even laser beams to see how much snow is expected to fall over an area. 

But even though meteorologists have all this advanced equipment at their fingertips, there still is no better way to find out how much snow has fallen than a classic snow report from viewers and trained weather spotters in the area.

That’s why we need your help! If you are a kid in West Michigan and you love the snow, we’d love to hear from you!. Please follow these directions to make sure you are sending us good meteorological weather data during and after a storm. 

It is very important you are sending us accurate information. The snow reports you send us each day can help us improve our forecasting the next time around! 

Here are the steps needed to take the most trustworthy snow data:

BEFORE THE FIRST SNOW

Make a small snowboard and place it in the middle of your backyard or in an open area. Snow boards are usually 2 feet by 2 feet and light in color. If a snowboard is too dark, it could melt more of the snow than usual and alter the snow report.

Plywood works well for making a snowboard.

An example of a snowboard courtesy the National Weather Service.

Find a good spot to place your snowboard. The best location is in the middle of a yard away from tall objects like trees, buildings or houses. Sometimes the wind swirling around tall objects can create drifts or barren spots.

It is also helpful to find tall markers to stick into the ground near the snowboard on days the board is hidden from view.

Example of the best place for a snowboard courtesy of the National Weather Service

MEASURING THE SNOW

Snow reports are always measured to the nearest tenth of an inch. Never measure snow more than four times in a 24-hour period.

Head to your snowboard and place the ruler all the way down onto the board. Check to see how high the snow is next to your ruler and write down your measurement.

Once you have taken a measurement, clean off your board and place it in the exact same location. Once the snow ends, add up all your snow measurements to find the storm total!

SEND YOUR DATA TO STORM TEAM 8

We want your snow reports! They are incredibly helpful to us. Email our entire news team at reportit@woodtv.com or by using the contact form here on woodtv.com. When you send us your snow report, please include:

  • Your name
  • Your age
  • Where you live (This should be the city or town; it does not have to include the street name or number)
  • When you took the snow measurement
  • The storm total so far
  • A picture of yourself or the snow measurement (This is optional, but fun!)

Be sure to watch the news each morning and evening. Storm Team 8 will occasionally feature kid snow spotters on TV through the winter!

TIPS FOR WHEN SNOW MEASUREMENT IS TRICKY

There are some special cases in which snow measurement can be kind of tricky. Here are some tips to help on days the snow is not stacking up the way it should on a snowboard:

Snow accumulates on the board but then melts: If this happens, report the greatest depth of the snow before it began to melt. If this happens several times, add the depth of the snow in between each snow shower before each melt. Add the measurements together to get a final snow report. Include a comment in your snow report to Storm Team 8 that the snow continued to melt.

Snow falls on the board but keeps melting: If the snow keeps melting before it can even get to a tenth of an inch, this is considered a “trace” of snow. When writing Storm Team 8, mention you received a “trace of snow” on your snowboard.

Snow has blown off or drifted from the snowboard: If the snow is so fine and light that it keeps blowing off of your snowboard, be sure to take several measurements around the board where the snow has drifted. Be very careful to only measure the new snow. Take an average of all your snow measurements around the board and send that number to Storm Team 8. Be sure to mention in the comments that the snow was blowing and drifting and the report is an average of many reports taken around the board.

Sleet and freezing rain mix in: If the precipitation isn’t falling as purely snow then it can complicate things. Sleet, or ice shards, count as snow in your measurement. Graupel, little bouncy balls of snow, also counts as snow. Freezing rain does not count as snow. Be sure to mention the types of precipitation you are seeing when you send your report to Storm Team 8.

Types of precipitation and how they form

ADVANCED REPORTING

If your kid seriously excels at snow measurement and is looking for an added challenge, here are two additional helpful observational procedures that can help us here at Storm Team 8.

Snow depth: Along with measuring how much snow has fallen during a storm, it is helpful to measure total snow depth. Snow depth is best measured by setting up a secondary snow board that is never wiped clean or by taking several measurements of snow depth around the existing snow board and sending us the average. To measure snow depth, be sure the ruler is all the way down to the ground and standing straight up. Record how deep the snow is. If you send Storm Team 8 the snow depth, be sure to label it as such in the email.

Snow/water equivalent: It can be very helpful to know how much liquid water was in the amount of snow that has fallen. In order measure the snow/water equivalent, you must have a trusted rain/snow gauge. The most accurate is the official CoCoRaHS gauge.

Before a snow event, be sure to remove the rain gauge portion and leave the barrel open for snow. After the snow has fallen, cover the top of the snow container and allow the snow inside the barrel to melt without any evaporation. When fully melted, pour the water from your snow container into your rain gauge to see what the water amount was inside the snow. Send both the snow amount and the liquid water equivalent to Storm Team 8.

CoCoRaHS is a volunteer organization of rain, snow, hail, and sleet observers all over the country. You can see 24 hour reports from volunteers all over America here.

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