Reporting the Snow: Keeping It Real in the PNW

                Throughout the five winters that I've spent living in the central Cascades, almost every day has started with a quick check of the overnight snowfall box on this website. As I said in an earlier blog post, I worked nights for three winters so that I could plan my days around that number. One December I even quit a "real job" in the city because of the big numbers that kept showing up in that box. Many nights I've told myself that my legs couldn't take another day of skiing, only to wake up and have the snow report jolt me into action. There have been mornings when seeing that no snow has fallen has brought relief: I'd get to sleep in, and maybe catch up on laundry or do some grocery shopping. Then there was that infamous morning of December 8th, 2012, when I, thought that someone must have made a mistake because the overnight box claimed 39 inches. I refreshed the page three times before deciding that I'd better head up to see what was going on. Sure enough, three to five feet had fallen in 12 hours.

 

Good Morning, Cowboy!

After too many days with no snow to report, I was happy to snap this photo of a pow-blanketed Cowboy Mountain in early February.         

 

                I still check the total every morning, but my reasons are a little different now. Our overnight (made up of the 12 hours between 4pm the previous day to 4am) and 24 hour (4am the previous day to 4am of the current day) snow totals are checked at a snow study plot near the top of the Daisy chair (300 feet above the base area) every morning at 4am by one of our two avalanche forecasters. They input the totals and weather conditions on the website and record the first snowline of the day. I wake up around 4:30am during my work week to make sure that everything on the website has been updated, write a general description of expected skiing and riding conditions, and input our data into onthesnow.com, a popular snow reporting website. At 5:30am our report is automatically emailed to everyone who is signed up to receive it. If all goes smoothly, I can get another hour of sleep before heading up to be at the pass around 7:30am to start the second round of updates. Really though, if the number in the box is big enough when I first wake up, my heart starts racing and there's no way that I can get back to sleep.

                No one up here would benefit from misrepresenting our snow totals. To quote German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” We want you to be able to believe us. The same numbers that we post on our conditions page are used for official records, planning resort operations, and are shared with our friends and employees who just want to come up and have fun. Sometimes weird things happen: wind can add snow to or remove it from the measurement plot (though they are placed in spots which are somewhat protected from the wind), warm temperatures can cause the snowpack to settle before or after the measurement is taken, or, most commonly, it continues to dump snow after the 4am measurement is taken, so that the snow is deeper than originally reported by the time people start showing up.

 

Nice Day

Snow conditions were pretty sub-par the day that this photo was taken, but it was still an amazing day in the mountains.

 

                As the snow reporter I try to be on top of updating the conditions page on this website in real-time as things change. If the snow switches over to rain, I'll update as soon as I look out the window and notice. If it's 34 degrees and a mix of snow and rain at the base, I'll call a lift operator higher on the mountain and check to see what's going on up there so that we can be accurate. Sometimes I might be out testing the product and it might take a little longer to get an update posted, but I'll call and ask someone else to do it if I can't get back soon.  

                The temperature posted on our site is automatically updated by telemetry sensors around the mountain which are operated by the Northwest Avalanche Center. These same telemetry sites also tell us wind speed, snow depth, 24 hour snowfall, and total precipitation in terms of water. The mountains are obviously hard on electronics, so any of these sensors can be negatively affected by wind transported snow and ice, wildlife, and electrical surges. For these reasons 12 and 24 hour snow totals are checked manually, and upper mountain wind speeds and temperatures sometimes have to be checked by calling lift operators. As snow piles up throughout the day we will post the new snow depth in its own box, just above the overnight, 24 hour, and 48 hour totals on the conditions page. That snowfall data as well as our total base depth comes from a DOT telemetry site which sits 160 feet below the base area, except in those rare occasions when the sensor is obviously being thrown off by wind or power issues.  

 

Visibility Reduced Due To Snow...and Wind.

Visibility is reduced due to snow...and wind.

               

            Right now (at noon on March 19th) it's 33 degrees and dumping snow outside of my office window. Our in-house meteorologist says that that colder air is coming, which should result in a perfect blend of light snow on top of heavier snow. A few days ago it was 39 degrees and snowing down at the base area, and more than a few times I've seen it pour rain when the temperature was in the 20s. Conditions in the Cascades are as wild and unpredictable as anywhere in the world, but we've got your back, and we're not trying to fool anyone. After all, with how much snow we get, we've got nothing to hide.

 

Testing the Conditions

The author of this blog does his best to report accurate conditions. It's tough work, but someone's gotta do it. Photo taken by Chris Danforth.

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