With all the recent snow in Montana, you may wonder just how much actual water all the snow has equated to.

Unfortunately, it's more involved than just using a simple ratio, but here's how to answer that question.

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What is Snow Water Equivalent?

Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) is a metric for understanding snowpack characteristics. It measures how much water content is contained within the snowpack, expressed in a standardized unit of water, typically inches or centimeters.

Interpreting Snow Water Equivalent

To comprehend SWE, envision a scenario where a bucket is filled with 18 inches of cold, fluffy snow. However, when this snow is melted, it reduces to a mere 1 inch of liquid water at the bottom of the bucket. This 1 inch represents the snow water equivalent of the 18-inch snowfall.

Consistency Across Conditions

During a wet snowstorm, the bucket might collect only 6 inches of snow, but upon melting, it also yields 1 inch of water – indicating the same SWE. Even in a rainstorm where the bucket directly collects 1 inch of water, the SWE remains consistent.

For a visualization of this, click here. 

Significance Of Snow Water Equivalent

The goal of the SWE is to normalize snowfall events of varying densities and volumes. While the height of the snow may fluctuate due to differing snow densities, SWE provides a uniform measure of the water content within the snowpack.

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