Meteorologists use simple tools for official snow measurements

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) As winter continues and the snow keeps building up, meteorologists with the National Weather Service need to know how much snow falls and the liquid equivalent. To do this they use humans and rudimentary tools.

NWS Meteorologist Ryan Zawislak measures the snowfall during a recent snowstorm in Fairbanks. (John Dougherty/KTVF)

"It entails taking out a four inch rain gauge and a ruler to measure the snow on our snow board,” said Meteorologist Ryan Zawislak.

The science of predicting the weather has come a long way, with satellites in space, radar, and automated weather stations -- but not for measuring the snow.

“Humans are the best way to properly measure the snow,” said Zawislak.

The meteorologists go to the official weather station every night at midnight and put a ruler into the snow on a snowboard. Once they get their measurement, they clean off the board so they can check it again the next day. While at the station they also change out the 4-inch rain gauge that is used to collect snow.

"So what we do every morning is we take a clean 4-inch rain gauge and we take this out and try not to spill it or anything,” said Zawislak. “And what we do with the snow in here is we go back inside, we have another tube, measure hot water, put the hot water in there, dump it out to get the liquid equivalent."

They measure the difference in water once the snow is melted in the hot water to know the snow ratio.

"So if we know an inch fell and it was 0.1 inches, we have 10-1 ratio. So 10 inches of snow equals one inch of water,” Zawislak said. They can use these measurements to know how dense the snow is and how much it weighs.

By using a ruler and some plastic tubes, meteorologists around the country can accurately report how much snow falls during the winter.

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