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How are snowfall totals measured?

Staff writers
February 8, 2013 — After a winter storm, everyone seems to talk about how much snow fell. How is this calculated?

Measuring snowfall totals can be tricky (courtesy: Paul Smith)
Measuring snowfall totals can be tricky (courtesy: Paul Smith)

It's easy to measure the snow on the ground, but you may be surprised to learn that this is one of the least accurate measurements in the study of meteorology.

The trusty metre stick provides the best measurement of snowfall totals.

At The Weather Network we use a "snow board", which is essentially a piece of plywood stuck in the ground.

It helps us take grass out of the equation when we measure the snow.

But blowing snow can cause piles to form, resulting in inaccurate measurements. It's best to take a series of recordings and average them out.

In Ontario, we often reference the totals at Toronto Pearson International Airport, which can be dramatically different from the snowfall seen in nearby cities.

That's because the airport uses a Nipher gauge -- a bell-shaped device that captures the falling snow. Often, the wind will blow a lot of snow out of the guage.

When the contents of the gauge are melted down and converted into a snowfall total, it's often less than what you are seeing at home.

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