Photo Credit: Alain Wong
October 1, 2023
As cool October weather descended upon parts of the Western U.S. this past week, it’s been a reminder for many communities that snow is on the way. In one sense, this is the beginning of a new year.
Sure, you won’t find many seasonal calendars for sale at your local mall that start with October, but from a snow and water perspective the new water year starts on October 1 and runs through September 30.
In the Western U.S., where snow can contribute to as much as 80% of the annual water supply, water managers, snow scientists, hydrologists and farmers have been resetting their annual water count on October 1 for well over 100 years. This is largely due to the natural cycle of snowfall in this region.
As mountain snow begins to fall after October 1, there is a good chance this indiccates the snow that will accumulate through the winter and then melt and enter our streams and groundwater later in the year. Calculating water in this way helps water managers understand how much water will be in our streams for both ecological and human uses during the warmer seasons.
Interestingly, in other countries and regions, water year start-dates can vary depending on natural patterns of precipitation. It’s also been suggested by hydrology researchers, that dates and definitions of waters might need to shift to accommodate a changing climate.
What does this mean?
With academic school years starting in the fall, many American adults still report a sentiment of new beginnings in connection with autumn. Here at SnowSchool, WWA’s national outdoor education program, this feeling certainly rings true.
Introducing thousands of underserved kids to wild snowscapes every winter is a significant undertaking. Thus, every October SnowSchool sites get busy ordering snowshoes, gathering items for their gear libraries, scheduling field trips, designing snow science activities (such as our Snowpack Prediction Challenge that’s based on the concept of a water year) and recruiting winter educators (both volunteer and professional). And just as the nature and timing of winter varies regionally, SnowSchool sites themselves are unique.
While locations range from national parks to nordic centers to rural school districts, SnowSchool sites are united around the common goal of inspiring and empowering people to explore and study first-hand their local winter wildlands. Join us in cheering-on the start of the new water year and the launch of a new SnowSchool season!