It was a big weekend for the volunteers who help the National Weather Service keep tabs on snowfall.
When a blizzard hits Long Island, the weather service can't be everywhere, so its meteorologists rely on a multilayered system of observers to fill in the gaps. Sunday gave many of them the chance to report the highest snow totals since they signed up.
Weather service meteorologist Brian Ciemnecki in Upton said the top of the information-gathering pyramid is the agency's two "climate sites:" Its own facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton and Long Island McArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.
Staffers take observations every few hours with plastic or wood "snowboards," lightly colored boards about 2 feet square, or "snowsticks," rulers marked in 10th of an inch gradations. They stick them on hard surfaces in several spots free of drifting snow, then average the measurements.
Besides the two official sites, the weather service relies on more than a dozen "cooperative observers" who are trained by the agency to report temperature and precipitation every morning.
The observers are augmented by a network of 500 "Skywarn spotters," agency-trained volunteers who supply only snow and rainfall data, either by phone or Internet.
Bruce Gronich of Plainview, a Skywarn spotter for several years, also coordinates about 60 of the Nassau County volunteers who are also ham radio operators. Gronich, who works on the technology side of the finance industry, got involved because he is part of a ham radio network and had become a weather expert when he was a private pilot.
During the weekend storm, Gronich said he measured the snowfall every three hours at his home until the accumulation reached 15.2 inches - the deepest he's recorded.
"It was pretty exciting," he said. "It's also exciting to be in touch with the meteorologists at Upton when it's going on."