The answer to the previous blog’s question is yes, snow course measurements are being made on Mt Rose with metal tubes in the snow.  One hundred years ago we could measure temperature, amount of precipitation, and snow water equivalent.  But it had to be done manually.  By a person.  On the top of Mt Rose.  Or any other remote peak.  There are obvious logistical challenges.    

Thankfully, technology has come a long way since Dr. Church developed the first snow sampler.  Think about computing capabilities, solar panels, batteries, and satellites.  By the 1970s, continuous, automated measurements were being made at remote, high-elevation Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) sites.  Today, the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers 800 SNOTEL sites in the western US including Alaska.  They continuously measure snowpack, precipitation, and temperature, as well as solar radiation, wind speed, and humidity.  Some even measure soil moisture. Read more about them here.  

The picture below shows a typical SNOTEL site. Among other things, there are sensors and equipment for measurements and radio antenna for communications.  Key is the snow pillow, the smooth surface that does the work of the snow sampler.  Instead of weighing metal tubes with and without snow, the pillow weighs the water in the snow on top of it. 

Typical Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) site. Photo from National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

In some places, a SNOTEL has replaced a snow course.  Not at the top of Mt Rose.  Measurements are still being made at Dr. Church’s snow course.  Just south across the gap of the Mt Rose Highway, a SNOTEL has been making measurements at the Mt Rose ski area on Slide Mountain since 1980.  The map below shows the snow course as the black outline of a square and the SNOTEL as a yellow circle. Click the mapper link for a better view.      

From National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) mapper.

It may seem odd to be spending time on snow and measuring it when spring is underway.  Most of us are done with winter and snow.  Except for my friend who told her kids that school was cancelled today due to a freak snowstorm.  They still weren’t talking to her when she dropped them off at school. 

Let’s not be fooled – the April 1st measurement of snow water equivalent is no joke for water supply.  Why?  Find out more in the next blog.