Back to top

In thrall to snowfall: Glen Saby looks back on a quarter century of snow measurements

Glen Saby has diligently measured snowfall in his Rossland backyard since 1987, and this year is no exception. To our knowledge, Saby's data are the only consistent snow measurements in the Rossland area over the last quarter century.

"I'm still measuring," he said on Tuesday afternoon. "We had a little bit a week and a half ago, three-quarters of an inch or so, but then we got 3 inches last week and 3.5 inches last night."

He is most interested in the depth when the snow first falls. "Once it packs down," he said, "that's not the real measurement. You can get 25 inches of snow, but after 24 hours it measures as 22 inches."

Consequently, if it's snowing a lot, Saby will take three or even four measurements per day to make sure he gets the snow when it's fresh. He uses an ice-cream pail to catch the snow and then weighs it to calculate the density. A typical value, he said, is "half a pound per square inch per foot."

Snow measurements for Rossland go back to the early 1900s. "At one time the government took it every 24 hours, out by Nancy Greene some place" he said, but the weather station had closed shop by the time Saby started. In the early 1980s, "there also used to be a fellow in the upper end of Rossland who was taking it before me," he said.

Like any attempt to quantify a natural phenomenon, Saby cautioned that snow measurements can vary greatly from place to place and under different systems and tools of measurement. He's clear that his numbers "aren't official."

He doesn't compare his data with Red Mountain's measurements "because the difference in altitude makes a difference," and "there's even a difference between upper and lower Rossland." For the same reasons, the old government stats from Nancy Greene didn't necessarily match the snowfall received by Rossland.

Glancing over his numbers, the winter of 1996-1997 was the biggest snow season, with 285 and 1/8 inches. The next biggest season was 1998-1999 with 243.5 inches.

"It's been going down lately," Saby said, "although it often alternates. You get a light year and then a heavy year."

The four winters from fall 2005 to spring 2009 presented an exception to this rule of thumb, each a heavy snowfall winter in the range of 170 inches.

With only 101 inches, 2009-2010 was the lowest snowfall season of the quarter century, mostly due to heavy rains instead of snow in December. Last winter, only 139 inches fell in Rossland.

Saby moved here in 1946. "My sister and brother-in-law owned a chicken ranch here in Rossland," he said. "They came from Alberta and I came with them and got a job at Cominco." He retired with a pension and started taking snow measurements the same year.

"I got interested [in snow] because there's so much of it," he said. "I'm not a skier. I've been here more than 60 years but never skied here. My wife used to ask me, What are you here for if you don't ski?"

Saby enjoys the task and others find his service useful too, especially as they consider the snow load on their roofs. "A lot of people phone to see how much snow we got, and I can give them the information that I have."

Another reason for measurements is to consider the water table. "We had a wet spring," Saby said, "so the water table should be up pretty soon. As far as water, we're probably a little ahead."

What kind of a season might we be looking at? Considering what he's seen so far, "it looks pretty normal," he said. "If up to now is any indication, we'll get a fair amount of snow."

He laughed as he considered shovelling and the other hassles snow presents: "I'd just as soon we had a little less!"