How to measure snow

How To Measure Snow:  A Beginner’s Guide

So there’s a huge snow storm coming and you want to know how much snow falls at your property.  But how do you measure snow the right way?  We’ve all been there when you measure 6 inches, but your neighbor says he got 10 inches.  You think, “how’s that even possible?   His house is less than a mile away.”  Measuring the first large snowfall of the season is usually a fun and exciting time, especially with children, but getting accurate readings can be a difficult task.  That is, until you’ve read this post of course!  Before the first snowfall of a new season, you should refer back to these guidelines so they’re fresh in your memory.  Please take a moment to bookmark this page so it’s easily found next year.

Snow Measurement Board and Stick

First, you’re going to need a snow measurement board, sometimes just called a “snowboard”.  No, not the same kind of snowboard that you saw while skiing last winter.  Assuming you don’t have an official National Weather Service snow measurement board, you can easily make your own.  You just need a 24 inch x 24 inch piece of exterior grade plywood, either 3/8” or 1/2” thick.  The thickness is just to add some weight so it doesn’t blow away on you.   

Next, you need to paint both sides and edges of the board with a flat, not glossy, exterior white paint.  Painting the board white ensures that the sunlight reflects of the board.  Using a dark colored board would absorb the sunlight, providing additional heating to the board that would skew the snow depth measurement. 

snow measurement device

The last piece of equipment you’ll need to accurately measure snow is a measuring stick.  There’s nothing special needed for this.  It can be a ruler, yard stick, or anything similar.  The numbers need to be easily read and marked in inches.  Snowfall measurement units are most often in inches here in the United States.

Snowboard Siting Location

Now that you have all the necessary equipment, it’s time to place the board before the snow comes.  Siting your new snow board shouldn’t be difficult.  Find a flat, open area at least 20-30 feet from any structures such as trees or buildings.  These structures and cause drifts that will give you in accurate measurements as the snow blows around.  Also be cognizant of the environment.  For example, don’t place your snowboard where the snow plow will throw additional snow on it as it drives by!  When you find a good site location for the board, lay it flat and mark it with a flag or some other marker so it can be easily found in the snow.  So it’s the night before the big snowfall, and your board is placed.  Most of the hard work is done.  Now for the fun stuff…

How to Measure Snow

You wake up to a beautiful new winter wonderland outside.  It’s time to find some warm clothes and put on your best thermal socks so you can go outside and measure the snowfall!  Locate the flag you placed next to your snow measurement board so you can find it.  If the snow is not uniform across the board, try to find a spot that is about the average height.  Being careful not to disturb the snow directly above or next to the board, place your stick down through the snow, ensuring that it is flush with the board and sticking straight up.  This is your snow measurement.

snowfall measurement

In order to measure total maximum accumulation, snowfall measurements should be taken as soon as the snow stops, or at least once per 24 hour period to get accurate readings.  Snow can compact over time, especially when it becomes warmer or wet, which will give you a lower measurement. 

Snow Measurement Wrap-up

So, now you know how to accurately measure snowfall.  It’s a fun pastime for most families and I encourage you to get the kids involved.  Unless you’re reporting your observations somewhere, don’t take it too seriously.  If you are reporting your observations or want to get more serious about snowfall measurements, check out the additional resources linked to below.

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