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Mountain Snowpack
by Jeff Bronsch

Mountain snowfall accumulation on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains is certainly something many of us will be paying more attention to after the low snowfall accumulations in recent years. Spring and summer rainfall events in the mountains and on the plains play a part in stream or river flow volumes but winter snowfall accumulation is by far the largest contributing factor that reflects river flows and reservoir storage volumes for the following spring and summer months.

Throughout the winter months Alberta Environment monitors the snowpack conditions on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains on a regular basis. Monitoring of the snowpack is done with what is known as a snow pillow. A snow pillow, in simple terms is a snow accumulation measuring station that measures the snow water equivalent in the snowpack. These remote stations are located within the watersheds or river basins and are calibrated and monitored on a regular basis throughout the winter months. Each river flow can be can be associated with one or more watersheds and snow pillows within the snowpack. With accurate snow water equivalent information from the snow pillows, snowpack can be converted into a predicted runoff volume for each river basin for the following spring runoff season. Every river level and volume, lake and or reservoir level in Alberta is directly affected by the amount of water stored in the mountain snowpack.

Monitoring of the mountain snowpack continues throughout the winter months and into the spring runoff period. At the end of each month a very extensive snow report is published and posted on the Internet at Alberta Environments web page. As well, every day throughout the winter updated graphs are posted on the web with the most recent snow water equivalent information from the snow pillow monitoring stations. Near-real-time hourly data from numerous weather stations and snow pillow sites located within each basin are posted on the web by Environment as well.

The following is a list of Alberta Environment’s snow pillow sites on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and the rivers that they are associated with.  
NOTE: Follow the links to the snow pillow graphs and the real-time data pages on Alberta Environments web site.