The Snow Surveyor

Through the years, the art of snow surveying has gradually changed. Improved technology has provided sophisticated new measuring devices, and an increasing number of snow stations are monitored automatically. However, the foundation of the snow surveys program is still the human part of the equation -- the snow surveyor.

At the Department of Water Resources, the snow surveyor's job is a year-round one. Before the first snow of the season falls, special teams journey to the ``snow country'' to stock cabins with food and provisions for the winter months. Some of the cabins are so remote that the only way to reach them is by horseback and pack animal.

Other field work undertaken during the summer includes installing, operating, and evaluating experimental equipment to provide cooperating agencies with information for designing future automatic snow data collection networks.

In addition, needed course maintenance work is handled, and snow sensor equipment is repaired (if necessary) and activated. At the conclusion of the snow melt season, the same sensor equipment must be deactivated.

Back at State headquarters for the snow surveys program snow surveys personnel revise historic data and coordinate activities with other agencies so that it will be ``all systems go'' when the year's first surveys begin in January.

Surveyors from all the cooperating agencies venture into the mountains. Each of the State's 300-plus snow courses is visited at least once by a snow surveyor for data gathering. Even at stations monitored automatically, data must be verified.

An average snow course is 1,000 feet long. Most courses consist of about ten sample points to insure sound statistical data. From two to six courses are measured in a day, depending upon how severe the weather is and whether the snow surveyor travels on foot, by helicopter, or by over snow vehicle, such as a ``snow cat'' or snowmobile.

One mandatory skill for the snow surveyor is ski know-how. it is not uncommon for some snow surveyors to ski ten to fifteen miles and climb more than 5,000 feet in a single day. The skiers, who travel in teams for the sake of safety, take turns in breaking trail to conserve strength.

The work can be hazardous, and the snow surveyor must be trained to handle emergencies. Although the general weather forecast is checked prior to take-off, constant vigilance is necessary due to the suddenness of many mountain storms. Extra precautions also must be taken against getting caught in an avalanche or being snow bound. California snow can get deep, up to 37 feet, in fact, and at times the cabins become covered and the surveyors have to dig themselves out.

Next: Data Collection

California Cooperative Snow Surveys

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