Measuring Snowfall

The Rhetoric of Information

“It was wet & white & swift and where I am
we don’t know.”

John Berryman, “Dream Song 28: Snow Line

Recent weather conditions out east provide an occasion to question the idea of facts—and by extension, information—as simply empirical. According to the Washington Post, the official count of snowfall in the D.C. area during last weekend’s blizzard will be 17.8 inches. That number comes from the weather observers as Reagan National Airport. While considerable, it amounts to considerably less snow than other observers recorded at nearby locations. “Dulles International recorded 29.3,” reports the Post, “while Thurgood Marshall-BWI Airport recorded 29.2.” Why the discrepancy? And why should we care?

The reason this bit of trivia made national news is because the observers at Reagan deviated from standard snow measuring techniques. The standard method requires a snowboard. Not to be confused with its recreational namesake, a meteorological…

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