Tuesday, 11 February 2003
Snowboards for National Weather Service Snowfall Measurements
Snowfall is one the most difficult but important weather elements to measure accurately and consistently. Snow has a profound effect on the national economy, with both positive and negative impacts. Large snowstorms can paralyze large metropolitan areas and isolate entire regions for days, affecting millions of people and resulting in loss of lives and billions of dollars. In contrast, winter recreational activities that depend on snow generate tens of billions of dollars of revenue, and melting western-mountain snowpacks provide critical moisture for human and agricultural consumption during the summer. Effective use of snow data can result in more efficient decision-making, saving millions of dollars throughout many sectors of our economy. Given the increasing importance of snowfall and snow depth measurements, there has been a commensurate increase in the concern for the accuracy and consistency of these measurements that comprise the "official" national data base.
The National Weather Service (NWS) recommends the use of snowboards for snowfall observations. Snowboards are surfaces, usually a square of plywood painted white, on which snowfall can accumulate for an observer to measure. Current non-standard methods of measurement used in lieu of snowboards include the use of grassy areas, heated airport terminal rooftops, picnic tables, and car roofs. These inconsistent measurement surfaces contribute to inaccurate snowfall measurements and an inconsistent data base for economic decision-making. The benefits from the use of snowboards have been known for decades, but historically, they have only been used by the NWS on a local basis. Our vital cooperative observers program (COOP) network, on which the nation now depends for snowfall measurements, are currently not supplied with snowboards as recommended by the NWS to take snowfall measurements. Snowboard implementation, which is currently in the planning stages by the NWS, will improve the quality and continuity of our critical snowfall observations.