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Natural Resources Conservation Service
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National Water and Climate Center


Background Information

 A Brief History...

Snow surveys in the West date back to around 1906, when the University of Nevada's Dr. James Church laid out the first western snow course. Dr. Church also invented key sampling procedures and equipment.

What is a Snow Course?

A snow course is a permanent site where manual measurements of snow depth and snow water equivalent are taken by trained observers.  Measurements are usually taken around the first of the month during the winter and spring. Generally, the courses are about 1,000 feet long and are situated in small meadows protected from the wind.


Historical photograph (circa 1907) of Dr. James E. Church - Courtesy of the Western Snow Conference
Dr. James Church developed
measuring equipment and
sampling techniques that led
to the first water supply