Measuring California Snow From the Air

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We forecasters (CDOT/CAIC) worked with Dr. Tom Painter & Hans-Peter Marshall in the mid-2000’s when they were perfecting the snow radar instrument that measured the snow cover.  We skied around in the alpine with the instrument attached to a long  rod held between two skiers measuring snow.. It was very awkward, a bit like skiing roped on glaciers but interesting working on a science project..  j.r.

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More information on this project


MAMMOTH LAKES, CA. — The majestic beauty of California’s Sierra Nevada never fails to impress. But the mountain range, which stretches hundreds of miles, is much more than a stunning vista. It’s a linchpin that helps make living in an arid state possible.

That’s because one of California’s most important water supplies is melted snow. Each spring and summer, the Sierra sends runoff down its slopes that recharges rivers and reservoirs, allowing crops to be irrigated and drinking glasses to be filled.

Knowing with precision how much snow has accumulated is crucial for farmers and water managers.

That’s where a mapping project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory known as the Airborne Snow Observatory comes in. Using measurements gathered by specialized instruments on a plane, scientists have been able to gain an unprecedented understanding of the amount of water present in the Sierra’s snow.

This year, after California’s very wet winter, the totals have been remarkably big.

Using the NASA data, we compared this year’s snowpack with that of 2015, when the state was in the grip of drought (which, at least officially, is still ongoing). In the interactive maps below, the white areas had a meter, or 3.3 feet, or more of snow on the ground in March.

High in the mountains, this year’s snow blankets the ground in layers tens of feet deep in many places. In 2015, almost none of this area had snow that thick.

~~~  READ MORE  ~~~


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