Citizen science: How deep is the snow at your place?

By Waiology 06/06/2012

By Daniel Collins and Ross Woods

Measurements of snowfall at low elevations around New Zealand are few and far between, and yet the data would be really helpful in understanding how snowfall occurs and quantifying snow-related risks. After all, the large majority of New Zealand’s population and infrastructure reside closer to the coast than the mountains.

And so we’d like your help.

If you live at an elevation below 400 m, measure the snow depth after it snows. And if you’re extra keen, measure the snow water equivalent too.

Here are the instructions:

  1. Safety first. Do not make any measurements if it puts you or anyone else at risk. Data are valuable, but not that valuable.
  2. Measure the snow depth.
    1. Choose a location. Choose somewhere typical; don’t just focus on deep snow or snow drifts.
    2. Put a ruler vertically into the snow right down to ground level and record the snow depth. Do this 10 times at each location.
    3. Estimate how far apart these points are from one another: it could be just 10 meters or 100 meters, don’t make them further apart than that.
    4. If there are several days of snow, repeat these measurements at the same general location each day during fine spells, not when it’s snowing.
    5. Repeat these measurements at as many locations as you like, but keep the numbers separate.
  3. Measure the snow water equivalent
    1. This measurement tells us how heavy the snow is, or its density. Very handy when estimating snow loadings for buildings.
    2. Choose a location and measure the snow depth following the above instructions.
    3. Find an old saucepan (or similar cylinder) with straight sides, and measure its (inside) diameter
    4. Press the upside-down saucepan vertically down into the snow until you reach the ground (snow may need to be compressed into the pan – that’s ok)
    5. Pick up the saucepan and most of the snow should come with it. Pick up any snow that falls out and put it in the pan.
    6. Slowly melt all the snow in the pan, and measure the volume of water (e.g. with a measuring jug). Take care not to boil off the water.
    7. Repeat this exercise as many times as you’d like, being sure to keep the results distinct.
    8. Record the depth of snow, the diameter of the container, and the volume of melted water. Also record the location (e.g., in my garden or in a park, post code 9999 or street address).
  4. Send us your measurements
    1. For each location, send us your 10 snow depth measurements and whatever snow water equivalent measurements you made. Be sure to include a description of this location (e.g., in my garden, in a park) as well as a post code (address is optional and will be kept confidential).
    2. There are several ways you can send us your measurements:
      1. In the comments below
      2. In an email sent from the Contact page.
      3. In an email to either Daniel Collins or Ross Woods (firstname.surname AT
    3. Be sure to include the location of the measurements and the date and time of observation.
  5. What will happen to the data?
    1. The data will be given to any scientific study that asks for it, excluding your personal details and address.
    2. If we have enough data, we’ll develop a Google Map to share and will post it here on Waiology.

If you’d like to know what the snow density is, here are the equations:

Snow volume (in mL) = pi * ([Diameter in mm]/2)2 * [Depth in mm] / 1000
Snow density (in %) = 100 x [Volume of melted water in mL] / [Volume of snow in mL]

Or if snow depth = 180 mm, pan diameter = 200 mm, and the volume of melted water = 1620 mL, then the snow volume = 3.1416 x (200 / 2)2 * 180 / 1000 = 5655 mL. Snow density = 100 x 1620 / 5655 = 29%.

We look forward to your wonderful, citizen-powered data!

SnowElevation400mUpdate 7:40 pm. If you’re wondering what parts of the South Island, the main recipient of today’s snowfall, is below 400 m in elevation, here you go. (Just disregard the parts of the North Island that you can see.)

0 Responses to “Citizen science: How deep is the snow at your place?”

  • 5cm measured at Heathridge Place, Lincoln 7608 at 10.30am Wednesday 6th June

  • 6 cm in Nortons Rd, Avonhead Chch 8042.Will get outside and do the density measurements later on.

  • 12.45pm. Measured two areas at home in the Heathcote Valley and get a reading of 3cm. Snow did not start here until around 9.00am, still falling but not as heavy as earlier.
    Barometer rising, now reading 1011hPa.

  • We got out into our garden in Nortons Rd.
    We did 10 depth measurements at 3 sites. These values are averages: we can provide the raw data if you like.
    Top of recycling bin: average depth 7.3 cm
    Driveway: average depth 5.9 cm
    Spa pool cover (spa pool not working): average depth 8.5 cm.

    We did the density measurement for the snow on the spa pool lid. Used saucepan of 14 cm diameter. Volume = 1308 mL
    Volume of melted snow 390 mL

    Density = 29.8%

  • On our lawn in Simeon Street, Spreydon 8024 at 17:00 we had a mean snow depth of 98.5 mm and a snow density of 21.3%
    And it’s still snowing!

  • That’s great, everyone! Emailers and Facebookers too.

    After a 2.5 hour stroll around Sydenham/Beckenham (21 locations each defined by a 30cm x 30cm quadrant), I can report:
    * the highest mean depth of 94 mm in Bradford Park
    * the lowest mean depth of 24 mm on traffic barrier at the intersection of Southampton and Tennyson
    * snow depth is typically greater over grass than a sealed surface
    * snow density in my backyard of 26%

  • Measurements made Thursday 7th at 9.30 am on a shaded lawn.
    Location: 4 Abberfield Lane, St Albans, 8014.
    Depth measurements made about 2m apart in a straight line.
    9.2; 9.2; 8.8; 8.9; 8.8; 9.0; 8.5;7.5; 9.5; 9.5.
    Average is 8.9mm.

    Density measurement.

    Snow depth at point 92mm
    Pot diameter 155mm
    Melted snow volume 420mm
    Snow volume 1736 mL
    Snow density 24.2%

  • Thanks for the chance to do some basic science on a fine, frosty morning. I wonder if measurements made above lawn might over-estimate snow depth slightly because of the ruler depressing the grass surface whereas shallow snow would tend to sit on top of the grass?

  • Yes, Hugh, you have good point. Differences in thermal properties and pre-snow water ponding may also play a role. (I assume your depth measurements are in cm not mm.) [DC]

  • Measurements taken in open paddock well away from trees etc at 5pm 06/06/2012 which was just before snow began to ease off. Address 426 Steffens Road Carleton 7476.

    Average depth was 38cm – over 10 measurements with about 10m zone. Range 36-39 cm.
    Sample container 24.5×24.5 cm and volume of melt was 2.7litres
    Calculations then:
    24.5×24.5×38= 22809ml
    Density 2700/22809×100= 11.8%

    Great idea..look forward to some collation of results.