Measuring Precipitation Using Rain Gauges & Snow Measurement

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  • 0:00 Why Measure Precipitation?
  • 0:55 Rain Gauges
  • 2:12 Snow Measurements
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

From old men sitting around playing checkers to suburban dads wanting to water their yards, it seems everyone talks about rain and snow fall. But how do we really know how much of either has fallen? This lesson explains how.

Why Measure Precipitation?

Let's say that you had a garden and were trying to make sure that your flowers got enough water. Now, you could play this completely by guessing, but if you've been gardening long, you know that too much water is as bad as too little water. It can cause nutrients to flow away and even uproot your plants. Meanwhile, a drought can cause your pretty flowers to all turn brown and die. Needless to say, neither of these are great outcomes. Therefore, it would be important for you to measure precipitation. However, precipitation measurement matters for more than just gardeners. It gives city planners an idea of how much rain is needed to continue allowing people to water their yards and wash their cars with abandon. Yet, it is not just rain that is being measured. Snow measurements are also of a great deal of use, as this lesson will demonstrate.

Rain Gauges

If rainfall in your region is pretty close to average during a given time frame, chances are you don't give much thought to it. However, if you live someplace that has been getting too little rain, or even too much, then the news can probably talk about little else. In places like California and Arizona, where populations are rather large in comparison to existing water supplies, this is especially true. On the nightly news, the local weatherman reports the rainfall shortages and often complains that it is too little.

In order to provide accurate measurements for rainfall, we use rain gauges. Rain gauges allow people to measure total rainfall through a variety of means. By far, the most basic of these are plastic tubes that have an inch or so opening at the top. The side of the cylinder has marking to indicate the total amount of inches or centimeters of rain that has fallen. In many areas, the official rain gauges are kept at airports because these facilities need to have a more accurate measurement of current weather conditions in order to ensure the safety of flight operations. Other rain gauges are far more technologically advanced, being able to report rainfall totals via a cell phone signal or even satellite.

Snow Measurements

Measuring snow also requires special equipment. However, the same equipment cannot work for snowfall and rainfall. For starters, the quantities differ greatly. In the United States, even hurricanes only bring a bit more than 12 inches of rain within a day. Snowstorms, on the other hand, can routinely bring feet and feet of snow to an area. Knowing how many feet of snow has fallen is of great interest to many people, not the least of whom are schools. In some parts of the country, an inch of snow is enough to close schools for the day. However, in places like upstate New York, many feet of snow is nothing out of the ordinary.

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