May SnowSchool Field Update: Connecting Outdoor to Classroom Learning

This month SnowSchool concluded the 2019 season with classroom science presentations during which students and educators discussed the results of our annual Snowpack Prediction Contest.   Heavy snowfall made for a fascinating study of the snowpack for students across the west this year.  Below we’ve provided video highlights taken from this season that illustrate how specific field trip activities connect and prepare the students for further classroom learning.

Snowpack Depth – During the Snowschool field trip hands-on activities like digging a snowpit to measure snowpack depth (left) and the snow/water equivalency experiment (below) help students understand the relationship between mountain snow and their water supply, and prepare them for the follow-up weather station project.

SWE Experiment (Part 1)– With so much mountain snow this year its important to understand the impact of snow abundance on our water supply and waterways.  With this simple Snow Water Equivalency (SWE) Experiment students get to make predictions and test their assumptions about the connection between snow and water.  What they discover through the experiment often surprises them…

SWE Experiment (Part 2) – After melting the sample of snow during the lunch break, the result of the experiment is revealed!  Understanding the ratio of snow depth to water depth helps the students prepare for the upcoming Snowpack Prediction Contest.

SNOTEL/Weather Stations – Snow is fun, but its also a lot more than that: 75-80% of the annual water supply in the Western US comes from mountain snow. This includes water that’s used for household purposes, agriculture irrigation, hydro-power and summer recreation. Scientists have been monitoring mountain snow for decades and during the SnowSchool field trip students learn about snow science instruments, and visit their local SNOTEL sites or weather station (when possible).  This SnowSchool Weather Station was installed with the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station in 2015.

Making Predictions – Back in their K-12 classroom the students use special webpages created by WWA that displays live and historical NRCS SNOTEL data (above).  When their analysis is complete, students and teachers submit their predictions to SnowSchool online.  As the winter progresses students track snowpack accumulation (and melt) and compare their predictions to other students.  Snow hydrologists track the “Water Year” from October 1st to September of the following year.  Of high interest to the science community and steamflow forecasters is peak snow water equivalency over this time period.

Classroom Wrap-Up – In April and May the contest concludes with classroom science presentations that examine what happened over the course of the winter in the students’ local watershed.  Students compare current snowpack levels with historical norms.   During the project wrap-up students interpret snowpack maps via NRCS SNOTEL that display snowpack levels by watershed across the Western US.  Students discuss the geo-spatial variability of mountain snow and impacts drought (red/orange) or abundance (blue) might bring to specific communities.

National Participation–  For obvious logistical reasons many sites and classrooms receive the contest wrap-up presentation virtually. Here WWA concludes the contest for North Central WA participants.

Snow Rangers – Prizes are given out for the closest predictions!  Here a winning classroom poses in celebration while wearing their new Snow Ranger Bandannas.

SnowSchool annually engages over 33,000 participants across 65 sites!  Each winter, in 16 states along the US snow-belt, K-12 students and teachers venture out on snowshoes as part of a fun and educational science-based field trip. Over 50% of participants are underserved and a majority are first time snowshoers! WWA works year-round with organizational partners nationwide to establish new SnowSchool sites each year and help bring this important experience to the communities and students that need it most. To find out how to get involved visit or contact Kerry McClay-

-Kerry McClay, Ed.D.

National SnowSchool Director