In a year of particularly dry conditions in Utah, every inch of precipitation counts.
That includes snow that falls at Alta and Snowbird ski resorts, where final figures on November snowfall and water content were released this week.Final figures on snowfall at the Alta Guard station in Little Cottonwood Canyon show that a record 172.5 inches of snow fell during November. That breaks the old record - 143.5 inches - set in 1983, said William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service.
Also, the total water content in the snow during November measured 14.39 inches, breaking the old rec-ord, 13.79 inches in November 1983.
Snowbird received 129.9 inches of snow - another final figure - during November, compared with 117.5 inches in November 1985. Water content measured 10.75 inches from snowfall during November, with 9.83 inches of water measured during November 1985.
Despite the good news on snow amounts, Alder said Utahns shouldn't consider the amount of moisture a drought buster by any stretch of the imagination.
"It's a step in the right direction, but recent stormy weather conditions must continue to do a lot of good."
Many people who follow weather reports closely may be confused by apparent discrepancies in snow depth figures that appear in newspaper stories or charts or on the weather on television and radio.
Onno Wieringa, general manager of Alta Ski Lifts Co., said the people who measure snow or water content and who are responsible for keeping track of such figures know what they are doing. Discrepancies in figures or confusion usually arise, he said, as the information filters down to the public.
One of the problems, he said, is that the news media call different people at different times, with widespread reporting from numerous sources and at different times creating confusion.
Wieringa, who has many years of experience in recording snow depths and who is nationally known for his expertise in avalanche forecasting and control, said snow is measured at three different sites in Little Cottonwood Canyon. They are Snowbird and Alta ski lifts and at the Utah Department of Transportation study plot at the Alta Guard Station. The three locations are all in a windy, mountain environment, which naturally means different amounts at each site.
"The bottom line is the three different areas that measure snow have a reason for doing it, and they do it well. But by the time the information from the three different areas gets to the public and everybody that asks for it asks a different question _ it just gets to be a mess," Wieringa said.
Alder said one thing to remember about snow is that it melts, compacts, compresses and settles. It is undergoing constant change.
He said the term snowpack may be defined as how much snow is measured at a representative site of a particular location.
Wieringa said too much time is spent in trying to determine how much snow is at a particular site "when it doesn't matter one way or the other. . . . Once a ski or toboggan area has enough snow for an activity, that is the important thing."
Wieringa said Alta officials report snowfall and snow depth every 24 hours to the Utah Ski Association.
"If everyone got his information from that association he would know what amount of snow a ski area has got. But (UDOT) doesn't report to the association, but reports instead to the National Weather Service."
Total snow-depth figures at a ski area is taken from what Wieringa called an undisturbed study plot. All ski areas have a similar place for measuring snow.
Chic Morton, president of Alta Ski Lifts Co., said, "We could take snow measurements at a dozen different places on our mountain and have a dozen different figures. Wind greatly influences snow depths. That's why we try to have our study in a spot that is as undisturbed as possible by wind."
Wieringa said one possible way to avoid confusion on numbers would be if everyone stuck with just one number, the amount of new snow in a 24-hour period.
But he said the thing that most people can understand is that there is lots of snow in the mountains and that skiing and other activities are good.
"If it's snowing in the (Salt Lake) Valley you know we've probably got lots of snow (at the resorts). The important thing is that people should get out and go skiing, tobogganing (or participate in other activities) and get some exercise."