Snow Depth & Snowpack Prediction
Updated: Jun 16
An exploration of snowpack.
Grade Level: 3-12
Weather & Climate
Physical properties of matter
Tools & Materials
Ruler or Yardstick
Science notebook or paper & pencil
To Do & Notice
1. Question: How deep is the snow?
2. Make a Claim: How deep do you think the snow is in your backyard? Will the snow depth be different or the same in different areas? Where do you think you will find the least snow? Where do you think you will find the most snow?
3. Testing Ideas:
Go outside into the fresh snow!
Find an area of untracked and undisturbed snow.
Dig a snow pit (a hole in the snow that goes all the way down to the ground). Make sure that at least one wall of the snow pit is vertically flat (straight up and down, not slanted).
4. Collect Data:
Use your ruler or yardstick to measure (in inches) along the flat wall from the bottom of the snow pit to the surface of the snow.
Record your data and the location in your science notebook (or on your paper).
Repeat these steps in a new location in your backyard.
Repeat this in as many locations as possible.
Find the average of the data you collected. Watch this short video to learn how to find the average.
5. Analyze & Interpret Data:
Was the snow depth less or more than you predicted?
Were the snow depths the same in all of the locations you tested?
Were they different? Why?
What would cause the snow depths to be different in nearby locations?
6. Communicate Findings:
Post photos of your snow pits and measurements on social media and tag us @sweptahoe on Instagram and/or to @swep4 on Facebook. Be sure to hashtag and follow #SWEPsnippets. If you cannot post directly yourself, send your photos or video to SWEP (Jenna@4swep.org).
What’s Going On
Snow depth can vary greatly from hour to hour, due to settlement and compaction, but the amount of water contained within the snow remains consistent. Seasonal snow cover is one of the most important factors in predicting water supply locally and across the globe.
Snowpack is the accumulated snow covering an area. It is the quantity of fallen snow that has become massed together. As the seasons change this accumulated snow melts in the spring and provides water for irrigation, drinking supply, electric power, etc.
Snow Water Equivalent:
Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) is the amount of water contained within the snowpack. It can be thought of as the depth of water that would theoretically result if you melted the entire snowpack instantaneously. Or in simpler terms: snow water equivalent is the depth of water that would cover the ground if the snow cover was in a liquid state.
How to dig a snow pit: https://avalanche.org/avalanche-encyclopedia/snowpit/
Video of students in Idaho digging snow pits with our partners at Winter Wildlands Alliance's SnowSchool: https://vimeo.com/338726869
1. Join SWEP’s Snowpack Prediction Contest!
Visit SWEP’s Snowpack Prediction page to discover and explore current and historical snowpack data. You can look back at past data in our region as far as 1980. Visit the SNOTEL map to find the location in Tahoe City (this is the site we will be basing the contest out of).
Watch this Snowpack and SNOTEL video to learn more about how snowpack is measured by snow scientists and why this information is vital for predicting future water supply for our drinking water needs, recreation, irrigation, and more.
2. Make a prediction/claim:
What is the amount of snow (in inches) that we will have in the Tahoe Area this year (specifically in Tahoe City)? In other words, how deep will the snowpack be at its greatest depth of the year?
Additionally, make a claim of what the Snow Water Equivalent of that snow will be. How many inches of liquid water would there be if that snowpack melted?
3. Submit your claim of both the snowpack depth and Snow Water Equivalent level to email@example.com by April 15th. Be sure to include your name, grade level, school, and both numbers (Greatest Snow Depth & Greatest Snow Water Equivalent...in inches).
Thanks to our partners at Winter Wildland Alliance's SnowSchool and Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association for supporting student’s snow science learning activities.