James E. Church pictured in 1920. Courtesy of University of Reno, Nevada.
James E. Church was a man who answered his calling. Like a real-life Indiana Jones, Professor Church pursued adventure around the world, ending a war and helping to found the Snow Survey Program on the way. Every hero needs a cause; Church found his in snow.
Born in Michigan in 1869, Church moved west in 1901 to teach classics and art history at the University of Nevada, Reno. The nearby Sierra Nevada fascinated him. He hiked there often, publishing his mountaineering accounts in the Sierra Club newsletter. Read more »
Jeff Anderson, snow survey director for NRCS in Nevada, shows the school’s students how to read snow-measuring instruments. Dan Martyn and Nichole Bolton learn the ropes. NRCS photo by Anita Brown.
If you live in the western United States and you’re sipping a glass of water, irrigating your crops, lighting your home with hydrological-sourced energy, or enjoy skiing or fishing, you’re probably using information made available from USDA’s snow survey program.
Snow provides 50 to 80 percent of the western water supply and while many agencies, utilities, Tribes and others have a role in snow surveys, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) leads efforts to make sure all the players use accurate and consistent methods and come home safely. NRCS just released its February forecast. Read more »
Dee Waldron, a Morgan County farmer, uses data from the NRCS Soil Climate Analysis Network, or SCAN, to make more informed farm management decisions.
Utah dairyman Dee Waldron watches the weather closely. He wants clear, up-to-date weather and climate information anytime and anywhere that help him make critical farming decisions, such as when to irrigate, plant and harvest.
Waldron operates a dairy and feed grain farm in Morgan County, just east of Salt Lake City. This area is considered a high mountain desert and is not very productive without annual mountain streamflows stored in irrigation reservoirs.
“Before, I used to take a shovel in the field, dig down, and guess by feeling how much moisture was available for my crops,” Waldron said. “Now I use my computer and iPhone to access the local weather forecast, the amount of soil moisture, the snow levels in the mountains, the amount of water in the river, and even the soil temperature. This really helps us as agricultural producers.” Read more »
NRCS Oregon Hydrologist Julie Koeberle helps Soil Scientist Thor Thorson calculate current water content in snow. NRCS photo.
Every winter Westerners look to the mountains and may not realize they’re peering into the future. More snow cap means more water come spring and summer. Many lives and livelihoods depend on nature’s uneven hand.
Thanks to USDA’s National Water and Climate Center, what used to be speculation is now science. Through a network of high-elevation weather stations across the West, the center accurately forecasts how much water Western states will receive from snowmelt.
The data benefits everyone in the path of the streamflow. The center’s water supply forecasts empower states to take action to prevent flooding or prepare for drought. Some farmers look to the water supply forecast when deciding what crops to grow. It’s like playing chess with nature, and you can almost see nature’s next move. Read more »
Streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm. (NRCS photo)
March storms increased snowpack in the northern half of the West but didn’t provide much relief for the dry southern half, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Water and Climate Center (NWCC) in its April 2014 water supply forecast.
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), most of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and northern parts of Colorado and Utah are expected to have near normal or above normal water supplies, according to the forecast. Far below normal streamflow is expected for southern Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah and western Nevada. Read more »
A Portland television reporter and NRCS public affairs specialist Spencer Miller join NRCS snow surveyors to measure snow and collect data.
A stormy February doubled the Mount Hood snowpack from five feet to ten – a relief for northern Oregon, which has been unseasonably dry. Hydrologists have told me about dramatic recoveries, but this is the first time I’ve witnessed it.
I recently joined Julie Koeberle, one of our hydrologists with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, to collect data that would be released in the March forecast from the agency’s National Water and Climate Center.
We snow-shoed out to the site and weighed the snow, and a local reporter tagged along to see how it’s done. Weighing snow allows surveyors to calculate the snow-water equivalent, in other words, how much water is in the snow. Light, fluffy snow contains less than dense, packed snow. Read more »