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Snowfall measurement not exactly an exact science

A pile of snow nearly covers a stop

A pile of snow nearly covers a stop sign Monday on Pine Neck Avenue in East Patchogue. (Dec. 21, 2009) Credit: James Carbone

So how deep was it?

The Blizzard of '09 broke the modern record for snowfall on Long Island at 26.3 inches, according to the official measuring station at the National Weather Service in Upton.

Unofficially, the snow was slightly deeper in Mastic (26.5 inches) and deepest in East Patchogue (27.5 inches), according to measurements reported to the weather agency. Mastic is about 8 miles to the south of Upton; East Patchogue is about 14 miles to the southwest of Upton.

In both cases, the snow totals were provided by members of the public, who do not have to adhere to any specific standards when measuring snow.

Those total numbers are not official "because we don't have the manpower to check all these totals," said Richard Castro of the National Weather Service. "There's no way of us confirming if the measurement taken was completely accurate."

In the case of the East Patchogue total, it was unclear how the depth was measured but "this was a representative amount" when compared to other totals in the area, Castro said.

Holtsville recorded 25 inches - a measurement that was taken by a member of Skywarn, a nationwide network of volunteer weather spotters.

Skywarn members are trained how to measure snow using a snowboard, but they don't have to use one. It's unknown whether one was used in the Holtsville recording.

The National Weather Service began distributing snowboards to weather observers in 2002, records show, so the agency could more consistently and accurately measure snowfall.

A snowboard should be "any lightly colored board that is about 2 feet by 2 feet" such as a piece of plywood, according to agency guidelines issued in November 2008, which urges observers to "mark the location of the snowboard with a stake so you can find it after a fresh snowfall."

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