NRCS seeks helpers to measure snow

RBC I The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Colorado is currently working with cooperators who have pledged their assistance to help measure manual snow survey courses.
“We are thrilled with the offers of assistance we have received from natural resource partners and snow survey data users,” say Phyllis Ann Philipps, the NRCS state conservationist in Denver. Anyone or any entity interested in assisting with manual snow course data collection should contact Mage Hultstrand at or by calling 720-544-2855.
As the NRCS confirms interested cooperators, training and equipment will be provided and stakeholders will be regularly updated.
“Within the past few months, budgetary constraints required us to take an introspective look at some of the operations within our snow survey and water supply forecasting program,” Philipps said. “We identified streamlining opportunities that would increase the efficiency of the program as it relates to our mission.”
The purpose of NRCS’ snow survey program is to provide Western states and Alaska with information on future water supplies. Trained personnel collect and NRCS staff analyze snowpack depth and water equivalent data at nearly 1,000 manual snow courses in the US and Canada, including 102 sites in Colorado.
The NRCS also collects data using SNOpack TELemetry (SNOTEL) technology , which is an automated system that uses meteor-burst communications to relay information about the depth and water content of the snowpack, precipitation and air temperatures to a central computer facility.
The three SNOTEL points closest to Meeker are Burrow Mountain, Trappers Lake and Ripple Creek.
Nearly 40 percent of the manual snow courses are currently measured by cooperators who assist in data collection. Personnel from the National Park Service, Denver Water, Division of Water Resources, and the University of Colorado, along with other entities, currently assist with data collection.
Currently 47 of the 102 manual snow course sites in Colorado are not being used by NRCS in their water supply forecasting. However, these sites are significant to many other entities who want to see continued data collection. Some of these sites, operating since the 1930s, provide some of the longest uninterrupted snow data collected anywhere in the United States.
“We appreciate the many entities who stepped up to offer assistance in data collection on these sites,” Philipps said. “We are hoping that by Oct. 1, we will have cooperators agreeing to cover all of the 47 manual snow course sites. Even if we reach 50 percent, that will help drive our costs down to a reasonable number that will allow us to withstand any additional budget cuts.”
The snow survey program’s approach historically has been to replace manual snow courses with upgraded SNOTEL technology. NRCS began this process in the late 1970’s when the SNOTEL network was born. The manual sites were initially prioritized internally by determining which ones provided the information needed to help reach the organization’s mission.
When a manual site was chosen to be upgraded, NRCS then installed a SNOTEL site alongside the snow course and collected data from them both for some 10 years. The maintenance of both methods of data collection helps ensure the consistency and accuracy of the information, and when the science indicates the duplicative efforts are no longer warranted, the snow course is discontinued.
NRCS is able to provide automated, near real-time data to water users by upgrading snow courses to SNOTEL sites as well as reduce the risks associated with requiring personnel to travel in hazardous conditions to collect this important data.
NRCS personnel also visit each SNOTEL site annually to calibrate and perform general maintenance on the electronic sensors and then compare the SNOTEL data with the information collected manually.
For additional information about the NRCS Snow Survey Program please visit: www.wcc.nrcs.

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