'Snow boards' key to measuring snowfall

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 | 12:25 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The snowfall total in Columbia is 17.7 inches as of Wednesday morning, according to meteorologist Julie Phillipson, from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in St. Louis. 

The official site for measurement is Columbia Regional Airport, south of Columbia off Highway 63. Measurements are taken four times per day, every six hours, by a team from the airport's safety office, Phillipson said.

The process for measuring snow includes using a tool called a "snow board" that allows snow to accumulate, unobstructed, on a flat surface, she said.

"After every sixth hour, the snow is cleared off and the board is set out again," Phillipson said. "Measuring it in increments allows for more accurate measurements." 

Snowfall is measured to the nearest 10th of an inch to ensure accuracy. 

Gusting winds, like those on Tuesday, are the one big factor that can slightly affect the measurements, Phillipson said. "But, by measuring every six hours, we alleviate most of the problem."

In addition to the official snowfall measurement taken at the airport, measurements are taken in smaller towns around Boone County by citizens known as "spotters." 

"Spotters are people who have been trained to identify severe weather, and how to measure snowfall to the same degree that is done at the airport," Phillipson said. 

These spotters serve an important purpose because they often provide measurements from small towns and other areas that would otherwise be difficult for the National Weather Service to identify, she said.  

"They are our eyes and ears out in the field," Phillipson said. "We can only see so much." 

Spotter classes are held every spring and fall and are free and open to the public.

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