A Snow Spotter Scans the Skies

Love snow. While others grit their teeth and long for Florida's beaches, I bury my nose in a scarf and watch the undulating squall lines roll off Lake Michigan. The howl of a blizzard tingles my senses, and I am ecstatic when the drifts demand that I tread with snowshoes. Because of my penchant, I was intrigued when the local National Weather Service called for snow spotters, their network of retirees, elementary-school students, and farmers sprinkled across Western Michigan.

I volunteered for the snow survey and received a packet of monthly data sheets. I also got cards describing how to detect wind velocity by the bending of tree branches, and other useful facts about winter storms. My most important tool was a yardstick ruled in tenths of inches. I thought this collecting of scientific data would be a stimulating home-schoolng project to share with my two sons. But my boys were more interested in racing through their schoolwork so they would have more time to play in the fluff than they were in research.

Therefore, it was my job each day to record the amount of snow that had fallen in the last 24 hours. Every morning at about the same time I threw on a jacket, grabbed my snow stick, and dashed off to my snow board. This flat surface was placed in a quiet location so that no drifts would skew my measurements. But if the winds proved fickle, I improvised by taking measurements at the picnic table and bird feeder. Along with the daily snowfall, or lack thereof, I logged the morning's weather conditions.

My introductory letter had also informed me that "in the event of a significant weather event" I should call the weather service and detail the rapid accumulation of snow in my area. I longed for such drama and waited for the capricious lake-effect snowstorms that might honor my location with their bounty.

Finally, near the end of November, the gray clouds descended. I awoke to pine branches bent with many inches of snow. My tracks to the snow board filled rapidly, and the birds struggled to keep the feeder clear. My corgi looked like a snowplow as he bounded through the drifts and snapped at the snow flung from our shovels. Twice that morning we cleared the path to the barn.

When the snow fell faster than one inch per hour, I called the weather service. Besides providing scientific data, my report would be used to update the weather conditions and to inform the State Police of where the heaviest snowfalls were occurring.

My family clustered about the weather radio, eager to hear if their mother's report had made the airwaves. Everyone cheered when our town and the depth of snowfall was read. We celebrated with hot cocoa, and stood in the greenhouse watching the layers of snow wrinkle upon the glass above us.

COME April 1, I sent in my last report. A few flurries would still fall, but winter was receding. Soon afterward, a certificate arrived recognizing my efforts in the Lake Effect Snow Project. I propped it up on my desk to remind others that even a homemaking farmer can participate in scientific research. Because this was the last year for the survey, my services would no longer be needed and my snow ruler was relegated to quiltmaking.

Or so I thought until September, when a letter arrived from the weather service relating how "our snow research" had garnered acclaim and that a new project was being launched by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several universities. Project Ice would utilize the ultimate in sophisticated weather technology and research aircraft, but there was still one other major component needed: the snow spotter!

So like my fellow snow spotters, I set my barometer, sharpen my pencil, and turn my face heavenward, waiting for the first flakes of snow.

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