How much snow is that much snow?

snow in a measuring cup

The snow we got from this most recent not-quite-local-snowy-apocalypse was fantastically light and fluffy -- so much so that it almost seemed fake. On Tuesday while clearing the sidewalk we thought it might be the lightest snow we've ever shoveled.

The fluffiness of snow is something that meteorologists pay attention to. Or, to be more specific, they're interested in how much water it takes to create (insert number) inches of snow under given conditions. And if you ever dive into the forecast discussions from the National Weather Service, you'll often see mentions of the snow-to-liquid ratio.

We were curious about getting some more specific sense about how fluffy Tuesday's snow was, so we conducted an (not terribly scientific) experiment.

The first part: Scooping the snow you see above in the photo from an undisturbed part of the yard.

Can you guess how much water was in all that snow when it melted?

Here's the answer...

That first photo was taken seconds after bringing the snow inside. Let's call it 450 ml of snow, in a very rough estimate.

This next photo was taken about a half hour later:


When we walked back into the kitchen to check on it, we at first thought something had happened to measuring cup because it looked like there wasn't anything in it. But, wait, what's that at that bottom...


Oh, hey, there is water in there.

The amount was so small that we couldn't really guess as to the volume. So, we weighed the water. (As you know, 1 g of water = 1 ml.)


The result: 15 g.

So, in our very unscientific, very rough estimate, that's a snow-to-liquid ratio of 30:1.

That's high. In fact, the "typical" ratio is 12:1.

But it turns out the weather Tuesday -- with temperatures in the range of 12-14 degrees -- was pretty much ideal conditions for producing light, fluffy snow. Generally speaking, warmer weather produces wetter, heavy snow, and colder temperatures produce dryer, lighter snow. (Here's a NWS table with some general figures on the relationship between temperature and snow volume.)

By the way: The measurement of snow is tricky -- a problem meteorologists have been trying to tackle with equipment that includes rings of snow fences, heated gauges, and even lasers.


The fluffy snow made for some great cross country skiing across the pond in Washington Park.

Nicely done! I strayed from Channel 9 news and some channel mentioned the snow to water ratio. They predicted 15:1. I loved knowing that shoveling would be easy even if we got the full predicted measure. Does anyone have a source for that kind of predictive data on the web?

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