Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Record lows set at ‘Snotel’ sites

Temperature dipped to –20 near Stanley, -16 at Galena


As temperatures dipped below zero for extended periods last week, the surface of Magic Reservoir in southern Blaine County promptly turned from water to ice. Photo by Willy Cook

The Natural Resources Conservation Service has reported new record low temperatures at many of Idaho's "Snotel" sites.

The snowpack telemetry sites record and transmit information daily on temperature, snowfall and snow accumulation in remote mountain locations.

The agency reported that the coldest temperature recorded during last week's cold snap was -30 degrees. It was recorded in two locations: Mountain Meadows, along the Clearwater River and Salmon River divide, and Deadwood Summit, near the Payette River and Middle Fork Salmon River divide.

The coldest temperatures recorded at local sites were -16 on Galena Summit, north of Ketchum, on Wednesday, Dec. 9, and -20 on Banner Summit, west of Stanley, on Tuesday, Dec. 8.

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A typical Snotel site consists of a shelter house for the radio telemetry equipment, a precipitation gauge, a temperature sensor, a snow pillow and a total-snow-depth sensor. An antenna on the shelter transmits information and a solar panel keeps batteries charged.

The snow pillow is a rubberized bladder filled with non-freezing solution. It lies on the ground covering a 10-foot diameter area. As snow accumulates on the pillow, the pressure it exerts on the pillow is measured as weight. Devices inside the shelter automatically convert the weight of the snow into an amount of water, or the "snow water equivalent."

Water managers use the data for planning reservoir storage and releases, irrigation, hydropower capabilities, fish flows and river-running opportunities. Real-time snowfall data from the Internet is used by avalanche forecast centers, highway departments, backcountry skiers and snowmobilers.

For Snotel data and products, visit the Web site at or Idaho's Snow Survey Web page at

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