Snowpack Prediction Challenge 2020-21

Each winter, SnowSchool participants make predictions about the amount of snow their local mountains will receive. And the results are in!

This winter SnowSchool connected thousands of diverse kids to the wonders of winter in communities across the country. We achieved this, in part, by working to develop SnowSchool at Home: a virtual curriculum for teachers to use with their students in snow covered schoolyards, backyards and nearby outdoor spaces (read more here). Many activities were new, but some were adaptations of tried and true SnowSchool classics.

One SnowSchool e-learning resource that K-12 teachers have been using for years is our Snowpack Prediction Contest. To adapt this activity for the pandemic this year, we opened participation up to anyone kids/students/teachers/adults who wanted to enter a prediction into our National Snowpack Prediction Challenge

What is the Snowpack Prediction Challenge?

The concept behind the activity is relatively simple: participants are challenged to make a prediction about the amount of snow their local mountains will receive during the coming winter, with prizes given out for the most accurate predictions.

Using decades of historical snowpack data provided in collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s SNOTEL weather stations, students calculate averages and analyze recent precipitation trends to make informed predictions.

Specifically, SnowSchool asks students/participants, “What do you think the maximum snowpack depth measurement and the maximum snow water equivalency measurement will be over the course of the winter?” This activity generally simulates the approach snow hydrologists take when making snowpack and streamflow forecasts.

Once predictions are submitted the students and teachers track winter storms, snow accumulation and melting using online resources well into April, May and early June. The result is a 3-4 month learning experience and snow hydrology exploration! 

This year the project concluded with video presentations that examined what happened in watersheds across the west, what snowpack levels (drought vs abundance) mean for the students local community and the impact of climate change on mountain snow. Extending our SnowSchool students’ learning experience and connecting it back to the classroom and virtual learning in this manner ensures that SnowSchool makes good on its aspiration to foster ecological literacy among our youngest generation.

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 weather station (when possible).

And the winners are…

You can view the results of the open National Snowpack Prediction Challenge AND zoom into specific local Snowpack Prediction Contests for Schools on this webpage. A big SnowSchool shout out to our participants with the closest predictions this year! In the national challenge we created divisions by month (because its definitely easier to make a more accurate prediction mid-winter than it is mid-fall). 

So kudos to Hilary for the winning prediction in the month of October, Torey for the winning prediction in November, Dirk for his prediction in December, Bristlecone Elementary 3/4th graders for your winning prediction in January, and James for the winning prediction in February! Winners receive either SnowSchool bandannas or stickers 🙂 Great job to everyone who participated!

The Emerald Mountain Students completed the Snowpack Prediction Challenge as part of their ongoing snow science explorations. To prepare, they dug snow pits outside and did a snow water equivalency experiment. After that they “looked a previous years and then had a big debate” a student recalled during their wrap-up conversation with WWA.

The Emerald Mountain Students showing off their SnowSchool bandannas during their wrap-up call!

Again the full wrap-up video and explanation is available here

Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s challenge and we look forward to the next round in 2021-22!