Nobody can deny that this past weekend was a snowy one for the Northeast. Every city from Boston to DC was brought to its knees, as everybody buckled down for the weekend with their Netflix and cans of Campbell’s soup. Official snow totals, which are kept and maintained by the National Weather Service, are measured in prescribed, uniform fashion in wide open areas (those without trees or buildings that might skew totals). In metropolitan areas, where such spaces are hard to find, these measurements are often taken at airports. Over the weekend, two of Washington’s major airports, Dulles International and Baltimore Washington International, recorded more than 29 inches, while the third, Reagan National, recorded 17.8.
Of course, people are curious as to how these numbers are so different. In most things, DC is infamous for messing up numbers and subjective math, but even considering this such a skew seems fishy. But apparently, the issue was the measuring device, which got lost in the snow. The National Weather Service requires that snow be measured with a “snow board”, more-or-less a table that snow falls onto. Every six hours, the accumulation on top of the table is measured and then wiped clean, and the total snowfall is measured as the sum of the accumulation from those six-hour intervals. And according to the Washington Post, the snow board at Reagan got buried by snow, and the person in charge of measuring snow had to improvise. The National Weather Service requires that all official snow boards are painted white, since it’s a color that won’t absorb heat and melt any snow, but that also makes the board very easy to lose.
With the hashtags #snowgazi and #snowgate, DC people began mocking the National Weather Service on social media. Of course, DC has promised a “thorough investigation” of the matter. Yet one can’t help but feel that the low-tech method of taking official snow measurements is comically quaint, yet inaccurate measurements from the National Weather Service comes with serious ramifications. And in a place like DC, everything can be made into a controversy, including snow measurements.
If you’d like to learn more about “snowgate”, you can click here!