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PHOTO GALLERY: NRCS 2014 snow survey


Beau and Bill taking measurement with media looking on. Photo: NRCS.

View the photo gallery below.

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service installs, operates and maintains an extensive, automated system to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the Western United States called SNOTEL (http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/). The system evolved from NRCS’s Congressional mandate in the mid-1930’s “to measure snowpack in the mountains of the West and forecast the water supply.”

The programs began with manual measurements of snow courses; since 1980, SNOTEL has reliably and efficiently collected the data needed to produce water supply forecasts and to support the resource management activities of NRCS and others.

Climate studies, air and water quality investigations and resource management concerns are all served by the modern SNOTEL network. The high-elevation watershed locations and the broad coverage of the network provide important data collection opportunities to researchers, water managers and emergency managers for natural disasters such as floods.

Meteor Burst Technology

SNOTEL uses meteor burst communications technology to collect and communicate data in near-real-time. VHF radio signals are reflected at a steep angle off the ever present band of ionized meteorites existing from about 50 to 75 miles above the earth. Satellites are not involved; NRCS operates and control the entire system.

An available map (www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/) shows the locations of over 730 SNOTEL sites in 11 western states including Alaska. The sites are generally located in remote high-mountain watersheds where access is often difficult or restricted. Access for maintenance by NRCS includes various modes from hiking and skiing to helicopters.

New SNOTEL System Capabilities

Basic SNOTEL sites have a pressure sensing snow pillow, storage precipitation gage and air temperature sensor. However, they can accommodate 64 channels of data and will accept analog, parallel, or serial digital sensors. On-site microprocessors provide functions such as computing daily maximum, minimum, and average temperature information. Generally, sensor data is recorded every 15 minutes and reported out in a daily poll of all sites. Special polls are conducted more frequently in response to specific needs.

The new generation of remote sites, master stations and central computer facilities allows for hourly interrogation of remote sites. A variety of calculations can be made on any sensor channel. For example, the user can select maximum, minimum, average, standard deviation, or circular averaging.

Each sensor can be accessed independently at a specific interval. For example, wind speed may be sensed every minute during the day to arrive at an average, while the snow pillow may be accessed every 15 minutes for the accumulated total.

To learn more, contact your local NRCS office or go online to: www.nv.nrcs.usda.gov. NRCS Nevada’s Snow Survey website is: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/nv/snow/

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