How To Measure Snowfall Accurately

How To Measure Snowfall Accurately

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Is there a snowstorm coming your way? Take advantage of the chance to obtain snowfall readings!

We will give you some tips to show how to accurately measure snowfall using a snowboard and a ruler. It even follows the National Weather Service’s recommended method for getting a “snow inches” report. 

Types of Snowfall Measurements


There’s a wide range of measurements you can take relating to snowfall. But these three variables give you information about the current winter weather events and forecasts for your area:

  • The liquid equivalent of snowfall over the last 24 hours is measured in hundredths.
  • Newly-fallen snow is measured in tenths and inches.
  • Snow depth measurements are a whole inch which you take at 7 AM.

Remember that snowfall is the measurement of snow at a specific time frame. It could be 24 hours from the “bare ground,” during or after the snow has fallen.

Accurate snowfall measurements help meteorologists, and casual weather observers understand how much snow falls during a particular event.

For example, cooperative observers obtain snowfall readings every 24 hours. 

Snow Depth

Snow depth is another snow measurement that deals with the recent snow on the floor. The snow here could still be falling or already on the surface.

They do not provide adequate short-term insights, but meteorologists use actual snow depth readings for early warnings. The measurement of snow depth can also give advanced alerts regarding snowmelt flooding.

This condition is possible if warm temperatures and heavy rain are coming. You can use a yardstick to measure these variables in massive winter storms. But if the snow is thin in your climate, a common household ruler that starts on the edge will do.  

Can You Measure Snow Using a Rain Gauge?

rain gauge

Yes, using a rain gauge is one of the best snow measurement techniques you can try. However, the correct type of rain gauge is essential for this activity.

  1. Choose a cylindrical rain gauge that has a removable inner cylinder and funnel. It will collect snow on the more extensive tube so you can measure the liquid equivalency of the snowfall. The snowfall’s liquid equivalency is critical for hydrology forecasts of snow melts in spring. 

Stratus Precision‘s rain gauge has a removable cylinder and funnel. The snow can accumulate on the outer cylinder for liquid equivalency. 

You can use your rain gauge for liquid equivalency. Remove the funnel and smaller cylinder and wait for the snowfall event to stop.

  1. Tap on the gauge’s rim using a fly swatter and count what falls in the collector. Disregard the sample of snow that stays. Then, melt the snow by filling your inner cylinder with hot water. 
  2. Pour the hot liquid from the inner cylinder into the exterior container. Stir until it forms a homogenous mixture with the snow. 
  3. The snow should melt to pour it back into the inner cylinder with the funnel. Then, make the final measurement by subtracting the first measurement from the total number. 
  4. To use your rain gauge for core measurement, remove the external cylinder and mount it upside down on your snowboard. Then, press it down like a cookie-cutter until you reach the surface.
  5. Lift the snowboard and revolve upside down to remove the gauge. Slide it off the side and ensure the snow sample stays inside the container. Lastly, melt with the inner cylinder and some hot water.

Measure Snow Using A Snowboard

The snowboard is the most accurate tool for measuring snow. It also offers other advantages, including insulation from the warm ground.

This simple device does not quickly melt the snow, giving you more accurate snow observations. It also keeps fresh-fallen snow from mixing with older snow. Remove the snow from the snowboard after 24 hours to restart your daily observation.

The snowboard is also helpful because you have a clean and constant spot to measure snow occurring. It makes data collection easier while avoiding obstacles. 

What You Will Need

ou don’t need a complex weather instrument for measuring snow compared to other weather variables. Here are three things you need:

  • Snowboard.
  • Old-school ruler.
  • Open area. 

It’s not advisable to obtain snow measurements directly from blades of grass because they increase the official snow totals.

And official measures don’t require you to insert a ruler into the ground. Instead, use something like a snowboard. A snowboard is a piece of plywood painted white to gather snow in a broad area, typically above a blanket of grass. It’s white because any dark surface can quickly absorb heat and melt the snow.

Making a Snowboard

You can create a snowboard by using ½” to ¾” white plywood. The dimensions are ideally 16″ x 16″. Lighter snow can float on the grass and give inaccurate measurements. If you don’t use a snowboard, your ruler may pass through this tall layer of grass, and the values will appear larger.  


Other snowboard alternatives include a picnic table or a wooden deck. You can get accurate readings from the flat piece of wood by placing it on the ground or on top of the fallen snow.

The roof of your car also works. However, its elevated height can blow the snow off and give you incorrect values. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Measuring Snowfall Using Snowboard

There are many ways to measure snowfall, but the snowboard method remains the best. Here’s how. 

  1. Consider the Location.

Perform your snowfall measurements at a spot where there is no drifting and snowfall accumulation is uniform. If you are experiencing snowdrifts, measure snow in various locations away from these areas and average the values. 

Take the measurements in an open area free from tall buildings, trees, walls, and more. The distance from these objects should be double the distance of their height. If you live somewhere with several trees, look for an exposed clearing.

Large amounts of snow can land on the leaves and branches without reaching the ground. Place the snowboard on the ground a couple of hours before the snow begins. Doing so will make the object adjust to the ambient temperature to provide accurate measurements. 

flag in snow

You also want to add a flag, stick, or any object that marks the spot on your snowboard. The snow will cover the flat-level surface after a few hours, making it difficult to find later. 

If you don’t have a snowboard, picnic table, deck, or any flat surface, direct measurement on the ground is acceptable. It may give you incorrect values, but it’s better than nothing. 

  1. Consider the Time.

Aside from the location, the time for measuring snow amounts also matters. Experts obtain accurate measurements during winter weather at 7 AM local standard time. They also round the number to the closest tenth of an inch when performing daily snow observations.

But 7 AM isn’t always the most appropriate time. For example, if the snow stops at 3 PM, the 7 AM measurements may no longer be reliable because they have melted and drifted. 

The National Weather Service recommends measuring right away when the snow event is done. Immediately calculate and do snow removal from the snowboard.

But if you experience multiple snow events in a day, you can report the maximum snowfall and wait until 7 AM. Below is an example of numerous snowfalls in 24 hours.

It’s advisable to get snow measurements every six hours as airports do. However, it might be challenging for you to do this at night when it’s freezing.

And overly measuring from your hourly snow accumulations can lead to artificial inflation.  In this method, you have to average multiple measurements in the wide area during the 7 AM observation times. It’s ideal for professional applications but not practical for personal use. 

  1. Get Your Ruler. 

After the snowfall, take your ruler out and place it on your snowboard. You might find that it’s uneven across the snowboard. One side has fluffy snow, while the other has thin snow. So, take more measurements and average them to obtain the correct reading. 

Measure it to the nearest inch in tenths. Then, round it off the same way when obtaining the depth of snow. A 0.1-inch of snow is a trace of snow and melted snowfall.  Some rulers have increments of ⅛” or 1/16″.

Round them up to the closest tenth of an inch. If you obtained a value of 6 and ⅜ inches, which is 6.375 inches, the final measurement is 6.4 inches of snow. While sleet accumulation is part of recording snowfall measurements, freezing rain or glaze ice is not. This type of precipitation is liquid, so measure it like you would with rain. 

Measure Snow
  1. Measure Snowfall When the Storm Ends.

Make your measurements more precise and consistent by restarting them after the last snowfall. Once the storm has ended, prepare to make new measurements for the next one. If your schedule permits, you can do snow measuring every six hours.

Start with your usual observation time, then set a six-hour timer for your next recording. It’s the recommended method of National Weather Service Forecast Offices.  However, if you want to determine the 24-hour snowfall total, don’t add more than four observations you took every six hours. It will lead to false inflation of snow totals.

Don’t remove the snow from the snowboard every measurement you take. Only do it when you’ve completed the 24-hour observation. 

  1. Measure Snowfall in Different Spots.

Measuring the amounts of snow in different spots is also vital for accurate snow observations. It’s especially true when there is heavy snow and wind, which result in obstacles. In this case, a flat, grassy area might also be better than a snowboard. Strong winds can quickly blow the snowfall off the board. 

  1. Measure the Liquid-Equivalent.

Measuring the liquid equivalent is an optional step that you can do once a day. Start by detaching the outer cylinder and placing the mouth above the snowboard.  Pretend it’s a cookie-cutter as you press down. After a few seconds, lift the board and turn the other way so that the rain gauge slides off.  Melt the snow and count the snow core. Subtract the initial measurement of the cylinder from the current total. 

  1. Remove the Snow from the Snowboard.

Once the 24-hour observation is over and you have measured the snow water equivalent, clear the snow off your snowboard. Remove all the snow from the wood and reposition it on the surface where there is snow.

Mark the spot using a flag, stick, or other markers so you can find it later on. Take note of the location guidelines so you can record the correct data.

Final Words

Plenty of snow enthusiasts and a network of weather observers find snow measurement exciting because it does not require a lot of tools! You only need a snowboard, ruler, and the perfect spot for precise data.

Get a rain gauge or snow gauge if you’re also interested in equivalency measurements. The rain gauge should also have a detachable funnel and inner cylinder. Now you should understand how to measure snowfall accurately. If you have more weather-related questions, leave them in the comments, and I’ll help you. And for more great tips like this, check out our list of the best weather stations.  

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