How to measure snowfall

Published: Jan. 15, 2018 at 10:10 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2023 at 3:34 PM CST
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Did you wonder how much snow you got? You, too, can be a weather spotter for First Alert Weather to help our viewers be in the know.

Measuring snowfall requires people and a little bit of planning. Unlike rain, snowfall can't be measured by a machine -- only its liquid content can (and let's face it, nobody is bragging about that winter storm when they shoveled an inch of water).

To measure snow you will need:

* A flat surface (we'll get into details next)

* A ruler or yardstick with marks every 1/10th, 1/16th or 1/32nd of an inch

Step 1: Find a flat surface with the right qualities

This may be the hardest part.

Don't use the ground for two reasons: It isn't consistently flat enough, and grass beneath may give you an inaccurate measurement.

Also, don't use paved areas such as your driveway or sidewalk for two reasons: These surfaces need to be shoveled, and they can reflect the sun's heat and are likely to be warmer.

Your site should be open to the sky so it receives the snowfall without snow from the roof or tree branches falling on it. It should not be near a surface that reflects the sun's rays, such as the side of a house or the dark-colored surface of a deck. It should be in an area as undisturbed as possible -- someplace protected from the wind and effects of drifting, and of course out of the way of shoveling or snow-blowing.

If wind blown areas can't be avoided, the National Weather Service recommends taking measurements in at least three places, then use the average of those amounts.

Keep in mind that elevated surfaces -- such as a picnic table in your yard or the railing of your deck -- are susceptible to the wind and could give you an inaccurately low snowfall measurement.

Step 2: Taking the measurement

Place your ruler or yardstick as straight up as you can, perpendicular to the surface.

Americans may have resisted joining most of the world in using the metric system, but we now record our inches and feet in tenths. Here's a table to convert the fractions on your ruler to their approximate decimal equivalent:

1/8 .... 0.1

1/4 .... 0.3

3/8 .... 0.4

1/2 .... 0.5

5/8 .... 0.6

3/4 .... 0.8

7/8 .... 0.9


1/16 .... 0.1

3/16 .... 0.2

5/16 .... 0.3

7/16 .... 0.4

9/16 .... 0.6

11/16 ... 0.7

13/16 ... 0.8

15/16 ... 0.9


1/32 .... 0.0

3/32 .... 0.1

5/32 .... 0.2

7/32 .... 0.2

9/32 .... 0.3

11/32 ... 0.3

13/32 ... 0.4

15/32 ... 0.5

17/32 ... 0.5

19/32 ... 0.6

21/32 ... 0.7

23/32 ... 0.7

25/32 ... 0.8

27/32 ... 0.8

29/32 ... 0.9

31/32 ... 1.0

If you're recording the event's total snowfall amount, take the measurement as close to the end of the snowfall as you can, before the snow settles or melts.

If the snow melts as it lands or never reaches 0.1 inches in depth, that is recorded as a "trace."

Step 3: Report your measurements

We need to know the following information:

* Your name

* Your community

* Your measurement

* What time you took the measurement

First Alert Weather prefers to receive measurements by email at It’s more convenient than answering multiple phone calls or replaying voicemail. We can’t personally respond to every email, but you’ll know that it goes to all the meteorologists in First Alert Weather.

We’d also love to see your winter photos at Use that website to upload as many as 5 photos at a time, and you might see them on TV and on our website!

Step 4: Prepare for the next snowfall

After the snow event is over, clear the snow from your surface so it's ready for the next one.

We at First Alert Weather are grateful for the time and effort that you spent that benefits all our viewers.