Measuring Snow

I’ve been relatively successful over the years in ending my newspaper’s practice of getting snowfall totals from ski areas when we’re doing storm stories. I reason that the ski areas a) are built in places that get an unusually large amount of snow relatively to their surroundings, which makes the number misleading, and/or b) have an economic incentive to report large numbers. Instead, I use numbers from the real time SNOTEL network, along with spotter reports to the National Weather Service.

Via Zetland, I see this from the Chronicle of Higher Education – real evidence to support my hunch:

A team of economists at Dartmouth College has discovered that ski areas report 23 percent more new snow on weekends, but, unsurprisingly, “there is no such weekend effect in government precipitation data.”


  1. Good progress! Unfortunately, if what I see on Northern California TV news programs is any indication, there’s a long way to go. Actually I’ve never understood the amount of attention skiing gets from TV news given the small portion of the population that engages in it.

  2. And moving on to rain, I wonder when NOAA/NWS will move beyond “official” measurement at one location (usually an airport) and instead used an average of several locations.

    I know averaging would mess up “records”, but this year has been a good example of statistical distortion. The ABQ airport figure for the year seems far below just about every other recording station in town (not just the usually wetter foothills), and indicates a pretty sizable deficit that doesn’t really exist overall.

    At least that’s how it appears to me…if only we had some other “official” measuring sites to confirm my wild-ass conjectures…

  3. Some of the spatial variability data Scott wants exists. For example, CoCoRaHS has 107 stations in Bernalillo county.

    The problem is that broader summary statistics are currently not so easy to find. If you want a map of the county showing total rainfall over the last six months, combining both observer (CoCoRaHS, official NWS stations, etc.) and automated (NEXRAD, satellite) estimates of rainfall at a location, you’re out of luck.

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