The following procedures were developed from previous National Weather Service procedures and input from a broad array of expertise from climatologists, snow specialists, weather observers, and data users. Some of the materials have been extracted from "The Snow Booklet" by Nolan J. Doesken and Arthur Judson, CSU, 1996).
It is essential for all observers to understand the importance of taking standard measurements in the prescribed consistent manner. Inconsistent observing and reporting methods result in incompatible data which can result in profoundly incorrect differences between stations and observers.
Each season before the first snows come: Review these instructions for measuring snow. It is easy to forget what needs to be measured, especially in those parts of the country where snow falls infrequently.
Observers should determine three values when reporting solid precipitation. They are:
Measure and record the greatest amount of snowfall that has accumulated on your snowboard (wooden deck or ground if board is not available) since the previous snowfall observation. This measurement should be taken minimally once-a-day (but can be taken up to four times a day, see note below) and should reflect the greatest accumulation of new snow observed (in inches and tenths, for example, 3.9 inches) since the last snowfall observation. If you are not available to watch snow accumulation at all times of the day and night, use your best estimate, based on a measurement of snowfall at the scheduled time of observation along with knowledge of what took place during the past 24 hours. If you are not present to witness the greatest snow accumulation, input may be obtained from other people who were near the station during the snow event. If your observation is not based on a measurement, record in your remarks that the "snow amount based on estimate".
Remember, you want to report the greatest accumulation since the last observation. If snowfall occurred several times during the period, and each snowfall melted either completely or in part before the next snowfall, record the total of the greatest snowdepths of each event and enter in your remarks "snowfall melted during the OBS period". For example, three separate snow squalls affect your station during your 24 hour reporting day, say 3.0, 2.2, and 1.5 inches. The snow from each event melts off before the next accumulation and no snow is on the ground at your scheduled time of observation. The total snowfall for that reporting 24-hour day is the sum of the three separate snow squalls, 6.7 inches, even though the snow depth on your board at observation time was zero. Snow often melts as it lands. If snow continually melts as it lands, and the accumulation never reaches 0.1 inches on your measuring surface, snowfall should be recorded as a trace (T) and record in your remarks that the "snow melted as it landed".
It is essential to measure snowfall (and snow depth) in locations where the effects of blowing and drifting are minimized. Finding a good location where snow accumulates uniformly simplifies all other aspects of the observation and reduces the numerous opportunities for error. In open areas where windblown snow cannot be avoided, several measurements may often be necessary to obtain an average depth and they should not include the largest drifts. In heavily forested locations, try and find an exposed clearing in the trees. Measurements beneath trees are inaccurate since large amounts of snow can accumulate on trees and never reach the ground.
If your daily schedule permits, you may wish to make a snowfall observation every 6-hours, beginning with your regularly scheduled time of observation. This is the procedure followed by NOAA's National Weather Service Forecast Offices. Follow the same rules for a once-a-day observation, but the snow accumulation reported will be the greatest for the previous six hours instead of 24 hours. If you take your observations at this frequency, make sure that you clear your snowboard (or other measuring surface) no more than once every 6 hours. Record the frequency of observations during the day in the comments section of your report. Never sum more than four, six-hourly observations to determine your 24 hour snowfall total. If you use more than four observations, it would falsely increase snowfall totals.
Freezing rain (glaze ice) should never be reported as snowfall. This precipitation type is liquid precipitation and should be reported as such.
Report snow depth to the nearest whole inch, rounding up when one-half inch increments are reached (example 0.4 inches gets reported as a trace (T), 3.5 inches gets reported as 4 inches). Frequently, in hilly or mountainous terrain, you will be faced with the situation where no snow is observed on south-facing slopes while snow, possibly deep, remains in shaded or north-facing areas. Under these circumstances, you should use good judgement to visually average and then measure snow depths in exposed areas within several hundred yards surrounding the weather
station. For example, if half the exposed ground is bare and half is covered with six inches of snow, the snow depth should be entered as the average of the two readings, or three inches. When in your judgement, less than 50% of the exposed ground is covered by snow, even though the covered areas have a significant depth, the snow depth should be recorded as a trace (T). When no snow or ice is on the ground in exposed areas (snow may be present in surrounding forested or otherwise protected areas), record a "0".
When strong winds have blown the snow, take several measurements where the snow was least affected by drifting and average them. If most exposed areas are either blown free of snow while others have drifts, again try to combine visual averaging with measurements to make your estimate.
If you added warm water to the gauge to melt the snow, make sure you accurately measure the amount of warm water added before pouring it into the gauge. Then, when you take your liquid measurement, subtract the amount of warm water added from the total liquid measurement to get your final liquid water equivalent of the snowfall.
As winds increase, gauges collect less and less of the precipitation that actually falls. Generally speaking, the stronger the wind and the drier the snow, the less is captured in the gauge. If you notice that less snow is in the gauge than accumulated on the ground, you should first empty any existing snow from inside the 8-inch cylinder, then use it to take a snow sample, sometimes referred to as "take a core" or "cut a biscuit" from your snow board with the 8-inch overflow can. Melt the biscuit of snow, pour the liquid into the small measuring tube to measure the water equivalent.