Wintering Weather – Snow to Liquid Ratio

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In the summer we always hear when it rains, if this was snow, how many inches would it be? So how much water is in snowfall? The answer is not simple.

A snow ratio is the amount of water it takes to make the snow that you see. The old saying goes, on average there is about one inch of water for every ten inches of snow that falls. However, there can be a lot of factors that can adjust this ratio.

The higher the ratio, the more snow you will need to equal one inch of rain. To help visualize this concept, you can do an experiment. Keep in mind this will only be an estimate.

After a snow event happens, put snow into a jar and see how far up the jar the snow measures. Now let the snow sit and melt. Check back when all the snow melts and measure the jar again. This will give you your snow to liquid ratio! Again, this is going to be just an estimate, because some of the water content will evaporate back into the air.

Every storm will have a different ratio because there are many facts that will impact it. This includes the temperatures not just at the ground, but through the entire layer of the atmosphere stretching to the clouds.

The warmer the layer, or closer it is to 32°F, the lower the ratio will be. In this scenario, what was once a 10 to 1 ratio may shrink to 3 to 1.

The colder it is, the more snowfall you’ll need to equal an inch of water. Snow that falls in very cold air may have a snow to rain ratio of 40 to 1, or higher.

Another factor has to do with super-cooled water droplets in a cloud. What are these droplets? Despite what you learned in school; water doesn’t always freeze into ice when it is below the freezing mark of 32°F. Meaning the super-cooled water remains in the cloud. If the cloud contains more of those droplets, then the ratio will be lower. If the cloud has more ice crystals compared to water droplets, the ratio will be higher.

Wind can also impact snowflakes as they fall to the ground leading to higher ratios.

An easy thing to remember other than the age old 10 inches of snowfall is equivalent to 1 inch of rain, is that if it is a mixed precipitation event, there will be more water content in the snow meaning a lower ratio compared to just a good ole’ fashion snowfall.

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