Breitung Township man collects snow data for Weather Service


Staff Writer

IRON MOUNTAIN – Breitung Township resident John Wilson is in his 17th season of measuring snowfall for the National Weather Service in Marquette.

Wilson, a volunteer snow observer for the National Weather Service, measures snow twice a day when it snows. Measurements are recorded at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

For the morning measurement, Wilson said he has to melt the snow to the get the water equivalency. Then a recording is taken again when the snow settles.

Snow is then measured to the nearest 10th of an inch, snow depth to the nearest inch and precipitation to the 100th inch.

Wilson uses a steel ruler to measure snowfall, a four-inch wide plastic tube to measure precipitation, and a snow board provided by the National Weather Service.

With 16 years of snow measurement data, Wilson has measured a lot of snow.

The maximum snow depth he recorded at one time was 32 inches in 1996-97. The most total snowfall in one year was 86 inches that same season.

Wilson said 1995-96 were big snowfall years, but he didn’t record the snow then.

“We lost one-fourth of the deer herd,” he said.

The lowest snowfall totals were in 2009-10 and 2010-11 with 40 to 45 inches.

“My 16-year average is 63 inches,” Wilson said.

Wilson added snow totals for this area were 65 to 66 inches at one time.

Wilson is retired from the USDA Forest Service where he was a forester for 33 years.

He said he always wanted to be a meteorologist and even took a few courses toward that degree in college.

“I find it interesting,” said Wilson who likes to look back at previous years recordings. “Weather interests me. It’s a hobby.”

Snowfall is usually recorded during the months of October to March/April, but snow is also recorded in May if it occurs.

Wilson, who lives off of Traders Mine Road north of Iron Mountain, added that 17 inches of snow were reported on Feb. 28 of last year.

Other interesting snowfall totals were 85 inches in the winter of 2003-04, 54 inches in 2004-05 and 75 inches in 2007-08.

“The toughest days are when it is snowing horizontally,” Wilson said. “It snows and blows. It’s hard to measure that.”

There are six to 12 volunteer snow observer volunteers who measure snow in the U.P. He is the only one in the local area.

The National Weather Service has been recording snow totals since 1890.

Those who measure snow for the National Weather Service use a program called WxCoder and enter information via the World Wide Web.

This program is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through the National Weather Service, the Regional Climate Center Program and the National Climatic Data Center.

Thousands of volunteers take observations on farms, in urban and suburban areas, National Parks, seashores, and mountaintops for the National Weather Service.

Lisa M. Reed’s e-mail address is