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How is snowfall measured?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Thanks to the wind, it's pretty difficult to measure snowfall. As the wind blows, snow drifts -- so it can build up in places and diminish in others. Therefore, meteorologists rely on a variety of methods to measure snowfall. In one method, they measure the water equivalent of the fallen snow. A rain gauge is used to collect and melt the snow. Then the water is measured. An accumulation of 10 inches of snow in a rain gauge is approximately equal to 1 inch of water. You can also use a ruler to measure snowfall. Measurements are taken at several points in a given area where there has been little or no drifting of snow. These measurements are then averaged.

    Snow begins as water vapor in the air. As the water cools, it forms droplets that are so light they float in the atmosphere as clouds. Heavy droplets fall as rain, and if it's cold enough, as ice crystals, or snow. Almost everywhere around the world, high-altitude air is very cold, and rain begins as snow that warms up as it falls toward Earth.

    Snowfall provides water to many areas. Snow that accumulates in mountains feeds into lakes and rivers as it melts in the spring. When snow melts, it makes its way deep into the soil and thus increases the supply of groundwater. Snow provides protection and shelter for plants and wildlife because it is a good insulator.

    Snow is also a source of entertainment for skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers. Winter sports are big business, and resort operators are as dependent on Mother Nature as farmers are. Bigger snowfall readings translate into bigger profits. In the U.S. in 2011, dozens of extra inches of snow found resorts in Wyoming serving greater numbers of skiers and, in some cases, extending their seasons and expanding their facilities [source: Moen]. European operators weren't so lucky, as snow depths were off 80 percent in some places; the temperature at Bourg Saint Maurice in France reached 83.5 degrees Fahrenheit (28.6 Celsius) in early April, and many resorts throughout the region closed early [source: Williams].

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