Cloud Peak Wilderness
Including Rock Creek Wilderness Study Area
Copyright © 2013 Travis N. Wood
View the Maps: Snowpack
1) Mid May Snow Depth Example
May 17, 2011 (1.5 MB)
2) Mid June Snow Depth Example June 14, 2011 (1.5 MB)
3) Late June Snow Depth Example June 25, 2011 (1.5 MB)
4) Early July Snow Depth Example July 1, 2011 (1.5 MB)
5) Mid July Snow Depth Example July 10, 2011 (1.8 MB)
Links to Snowpack Resources
SNOTEL Sites Near Cloud Peak Wilderness:
NOHRSC Snow-Depth Mapping
The small map to the right illustrates the
estimated snowpack for June 25, 2011 and the location of SNOTEL
The estimated-snowpack maps presented at this website are derived from the NOHRSC Snow Depth Viewer linked above. The acronym NOHRSC is often pronounced as "Norski." As the NOHRSC homepage indicates, the NOHRSC viewer incorporates (via computer modeling) data from on-the-ground observations, from airborne snow surveys, and from satellite-detected weather systems and snow cover.
To the right is the color-code legend for snow-depth used by the NOHRSC viewer and tranferred to maps available from this website. The NOHRSC map estimates snow depth in color-coded blocks. Each block of color covers about 150 acres and is about 0.41 miles west to east and about 0.57 miles north to south.
The NOHRSC viewer is Geographic Information System (GIS) based. As GIS mapping, the snow-depth layer presented by the viewer contains much information that is not apparent in the simple viewer a viewer with few labels, and no physical relief aspect. The purpose of this website's snow-depth maps is to add those details through other layers, also mostly GIS-based from the National Map or from the Forest Service Visitor's map.
NOHRSC and SNOTEL Compared
The other snow-depth resource useful in
planning a trip into Western mountain ranges is SNOTEL. Some
backpackers have shunned NOHRSC in preference to SNOTEL. Their
claim is that NOHRSC is simply computer-generated while SNOTEL is
derived from on-the-ground instruments. However, that is not
quite accurate, and with either resource, the backpacker will
inevitably attempt to extend measured data into unknown territory
extrapolating, as it were.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each resource. For example, SNOTEL is measured data derived from instuments on the ground, but those instruments are entirely outside the wilderness and may be widely spaced, sometimes dozens of miles apart. However, the deeper snow depths are often inside the wilderness where elevations are higher and temperatures cooler. So snow remains on the ground longer there, melts more slowly, and develops a deeper or more dense snowpack.
As shown on the small map on this page, the eight SNOTEL sites near Cloud Peak Wilderness often may not coincide with the deeper snowpack. To repeat, the SNOTEL sites are entirely outside the wilderness. But SNOTEL, like NOHRSC, is a valuable source of information. Each source must simply be used in consideration of its strengths and weaknesses.
The advantage of the NOHRSC snow-depth viewer is that it covers a broader area than SNOTEL, but the information the viewer presents is largely, but not entirely, computer-generated. With satellite and aerial scouting, not all the data employed by NOHRSC computer models is outside the wilderness, as is the case with SNOTEL. Compared to what we find on the ground, the NOHRSC estimate may be somewhat high or it may be somewhat low. But we are not likely to always find that estimate entirely one or the other. It may be either, or we may find it quite accurate.
To the right is one of many products available for download from SNOTEL. Indeed, SNOTEL offers many valuable products useful in trip planning. While neither NOHRSC nor SNOTEL provides an entirely reliable estimate of snowpack for many possible mountain routes, both web resources are valuable and useful so long as the backpacker, snowshoer, or skier harbors realistic expectations for the variety of snowpack conditions in the wilderness. Some of us can recall when neither product was available and anticipating snowpack involved much more guesswork.
SNOTEL is a service of the US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Weather and Climate Center. The name "SNOTEL" is a shortened form of "Snow Telemetry." It's purpose is to estimate the amount of water content in the snowpack that will be available for agriculture during spring and summer runoff.
The NOHRSC viewer is a service of the US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Weather Service (NWS), National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC). Perhaps the long Norski title could be more simply described as the National Weather Service's "Snow Resources."