The Math Behind Snow Forecasting

Dec 5, 2022 | Stone Oak

Last month we talked about how to make math a part of the holiday cheer. This month we will continue exploring the many ways, and even professions, that one can do so. One profession we would like to highlight is meteorology. Most get into the field by going to university and obtaining a degree in meteorology. This degree includes a lot of science and even more math! Although meteorologists specialize in forecasting all types of weather, with the holiday season upon us, we are going to share the math behind snow forecasting. Gather your children around and describe the fun of the field and use it as a prime example of how math translates into real life.

Explain that there are three different types of snow: average, wet, and dry. Average snow is like saying that if 10" of snow melted, it would equate to one inch of water.A 'wet' snow often produces a 5:1 ratio. That means if 5" of snow fell, it would equate to one inch of water. A 'dry' snow, which is what we'll see these next few days, usually has a ratio of 15:1. This means that if 15" of snow were to fall, it would equate to one inch of water. This kind of snow happens when the air is much colder than 32, and it usually accumulates more.

So let's say that we were forecasting four inches of snow in a 15:1 ratio. This is where the math comes into play. If you remember middle school algebra, you remember to 'solve for x.' 'x' would become 4/15, which equals 0.26. That means that trying to forecast 4" of snow in this kind of setup is like forecasting 0.26" of rain. That is why snowfall forecasting is SO difficult!

If we were to forecast 0.26" of rain, you wouldn't bat an eye. When we're forecasting 4" of snow, though, it's a big deal. Even though they're mathematically the same thing, they have very different impacts!