Carnegie Natural History program looks at science of measuring snow

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Measuring snowfall requires large data sets and wide-ranging locations making citizen participation a key element.

HOUGHTON — Understanding and recording snowfall is a complicated and developing area of research everyone can contribute to.

Mark Kulie, a Michigan Tech assistant professor, spoke on measuring global snowfall Tuesday at the latest program of the Natural History series at Carnegie Museum.

“This is one of the premier snowfall areas in the United States that is not located at an elevation of 10,000 feet or higher,” Kulie said.

Kulie monitors global snowfall and researches lake-effect snow along with other snowfall related research.

The snowfall monitoring itself is a combination of high- and low-tech practices and equipment, but for everyday work, it’s more low-tech.

“We’re in the year 2018, and our primary way of measuring snow is with meter sticks (or) yardsticks,” Kulie said.

Other common tools of the trade include a white snow-board which helps track the snowfall rate and snow corers, which determine the volume of water melt from a snowfall.

More high-tech equipment like radar and satellite monitoring are also common but can have issues when dealing with the specifics of smaller regions.

This is where community members can contribute to improving the picture of global snowfall, he said.

Citizen participation has always been a part of the National Weather Service. In fact, it was founded by citizen scientists in 1870 before being taken on by the government, Kulie said.

“The National Weather Service depends on citizen scientists for their storm reports,” Kulie explained.

These on-the-ground reports provide specifics for regions not otherwise covered, which is a key element, particularly with the high variability in snowfall on the Keweenaw.

“We could fill in more gaps here…it’s great work and a great service,” Kulie said.

Ideal areas for measurement are open and not prone to drifting, Kulie explained. He typically measures several times over an area and takes the average as well as taking hourly measurements. However, even a single measurement can be helpful.

For interested citizens, gathered data can be reported on weather apps like mPING or online with The Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHs).

Tomorrow: Uncertainties and variables in snow monitoring.