KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Snowfall and snow depth are some of the most important weather elements to measure accurately and consistently. Cities need to know how much snow has fallen in order to adequately plan for clean-up and safety, climatologists use annual data to monitor trends and road crews find it helpful to know where conditions are historically the most severe so that roads can be pretreated with brine.

With the winter season approaching, Meteorologist Victoria Cavaliere had the chance to visit the National Weather Service in Morristown to speak to Warning Coordination Meteorologist Anthony Cavallucci about how they measure snow and how you, as citizen scientists, can have the most accurate snow reports this season.

The meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Morristown measure snowfall, snow depth and water equivalent. The tools used they use are unremarkable and you probably have them at your home already: a rain gauge, a snowboard and a measuring stick.

A snowboard can be any light colored board that is flat. It is placed on the ground or on top of newly fallen snow. Make sure you mark its location because it can be tricky to find in deep snow. This board provides a flat surface for measuring the height of the snow. If you don’t have a board, you can use a flat surface such as a picnic table or deck. Measuring on the ground isn’t recommended because grass can make accurate measurements difficult.

The term “snowfall” refers to a measurement of the snow that has fallen since the last time you measured, or since the start of the event. This measurement is taken once a day and is measured to the nearest tenth of an inch. 

The term “snow depth” is used for snow that may have fallen from previous events and also takes into account melting. This measurement is taken once a day and is measured to the nearest inch. 

“Water equivalent” is a measurement of how much liquid is in the snow once it is melted. You will need to melt the snowfall in your rain gauge to obtain this measurement. 

Following these steps, you can measure snow the way the National Weather Service does and contribute to their scientific work.

Step-By-Step Guide To Measuring Snowfall Scientifically: 

  1. Prepare your materials
    • Place the snowboard outside prior to the beginning of the snow
    • Choose a time and measure snowfall and snow depth at this same time each day 
  2. Place your measuring tool perpendicular to the snowboard and record snowfall to the nearest tenth of an inch
    • If you are using a snowboard, measure the snow on top to the nearest inch
      • Remember: Snowfall is a measure of newly fallen snow and should not include snow already on the ground or melted.  
    • If you are not using a snowboard, you can measure snow depth by taking several measurements and then average them together.
      • Remember: If you have snow on the ground already, you will need to use a snowboard to get an accurate measurement. Otherwise, you are measuring snow depth.  
  3. After completing your measurements, wipe away the snow on the snowboard and place it on top of the snowpack so it will be ready for the next measurement.
  4. Submit your measurements to WATE 6 Storm Team and tag us in your photos on social media! 
    • Remember to include what time you took the measurements, your name and the location.

Now that you’re ready to be a citizen scientist, here are some things to remember while you gather data.

Don’ts of Measuring Snow: 

  • Don’t use a bendable measuring tool (like a tape measure)
  • Don’t hold your measuring stick at an angle 
  • Don’t measure snow near your house or in a snow drift
  • Don’t push all your snow together and then measure 
  • Don’t use a snowboard that isn’t white (any color other than white can absorb heat and help melt the snow)
  • Don’t take measurements every hour (this can skew your data and lead to overreporting) 
  • Don’t leave snow on your snowboard (be sure to wipe it off before measuring snow again)

Do’s Of Measuring Snow: 

  • Do use a sturdy measuring device (like a ruler that isn’t bendy or a yardstick)
  • Do hold your measuring stick straight up and down, or perpendicular, to the ground
  • Do chose a location that has an even distribution of snow
  • Do use a snowboard if you have one (any white piece of wood or white posterboard will do) 
  • Do clean off your snowboard after measuring and place it on top of any fallen snow