There was definitely a lot of snow in Washington, but just how much may never really be known.
According to The Washington Post, the number that will go down in the history books as Washington’s official total: 17.8 inches, falls short compared with some other spots in the region, raising the question: Why the disparity?
The improvised technique used by a small team of weather observers at Reagan National Airport lost their snow-measuring device to the elements midway through the blizzard.
Snow removal is underway on the tarmac at Ronald Reagan National Airport, Sunday, in Arlington, Virginia. A small team of weather observers at Reagan National Airport lost their snow-measuring device to the elements midway through the blizzard
The mix-up may have kept the blizzard of 2016 from breaking into the region’s top three snowstorms on record, based on accumulations, prompting the National Weather Service to announce that it will be looking into the procedures used at Reagan National.
The National Weather Service has clear guidelines on how to measure snowfall for one simple reason: How much snow falls may determine whether additional relief is sent into a location after a major storm.
On Sunday, senior weather observer at National, Mark Richards, stood by the accuracy of the reading, saying his team did the best it could under tough conditions.
‘Everyone has to understand that measuring snow in a blizzard is a tough thing to do,’ Richards said. ‘We would like it to be as accurate as possible,’ he said.
‘But it’s an inexact science.’
Susan Buchanan, a National Weather Service spokeswoman, said on Sunday a team of experts would ‘comprehensive assessment of how snow measurements are taken’ at other locations in order to make suggestions about how to better calculate numbers in the future.
Snow removal is underway on the tarmac at Ronald Reagan National Airport, with the U.S. Capitol dome seen behind on Sunday. The mix-up may have kept the blizzard of 2016 from breaking into the region’s top three snowstorms on record
Some residents are questioning why Washington’s official weather records are being measured in Virginia since it is not representative of the city.
‘People use National Airport as the weather centerpiece of the entire region, but it’s the warmest location in the entire region,’ said Bob Leffler, a retired National Weather Service climatologist to The Washington Post.
‘It’s just not a good site.’
The National Weather Service measures the snow with a snow board which is oftentimes just made of plywood.
The measuring guidelines require the board to be placed on the ground before the storm so that it does not move.
The snow is meant to be measured every six hours and then the board is supposed to be wiped clear.
However, the board was buried in the heavy snowstorm and the observer could no longer find it so he took a few snow depth measurements and averaged them.
It was not snowfall that was reported to the National Weather Service, rather it was snow depth.
‘Snow boards are the standard to use — when you can use them.’ Richards said.
‘Snow boards are just not effective in a storm that has very strong winds it’s just going to blow off.’
Jim Lee, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Virginia said that the snowfall was likely above 20 inches.
He added that the snow totals are ‘perishable’ if not measured by guidelines and that a snow board in necessary.