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Can this camera predict the future? See what ‘Snowtography’ can do

Each winter in northern Arizona, freshly fallen snow creates the perfect backdrop for a photo. Did you know that the same snow can also help predict the future when taken with the right camera?

It’s called SRP Snowtography®.

Not only are beautiful, snowy pictures captured with this camera, but it reveals how much water will run off into reservoirs each spring.

srp-snowtography-sits-in-a-field-with-no-snowfall
A Snowtography camera prior to snowfall.

What is SRP Snowtography?

Snowtography is the name of the camera invented by SRP engineers. It’s designed to help us continue to provide a resilient water supply to the Valley.

Snowtography cameras are located at elevation levels between 4,000 and 8,000 feet, essentially between Camp Verde and Flagstaff. The camera is attached to a tree or a pole and records time-lapse images of specific areas.

Our team of water-measuring experts use the images to analyze and record:

  • Snow depth
  • Snowfall length
  • Duration of time on the ground
  • Environmental and climate changes

How do pictures of snow predict the future?

While we cannot totally predict the future, Snowtography allows us to make educated guesses based on patterns we see in the photos.

Our analysts and engineers look at factors like how deep snow is at different elevations and how long it takes to melt. They also use nearby gauges for rain and snow to plan how much water may run off from each snowfall event.

The information gives us a better understanding of how much water will fill our reservoirs each spring. This is how we can predict the Valley’s future water supply.

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Slide the arrows left and right to see a Snowtography monitoring site during a sunny day vs. a snowy one!

Why did SRP develop Snowtography?

We developed a camera to monitor the watershed and manage the water supply. It’s like the camera we used in our 2017 SRP Flowtography® project that helped us better understand the behavior of:

  • Streams
  • Snow accumulation
  • Watershed conditions across Arizona

Snowtography helps us understand the nuances of where our water comes from. Additionally, it shows how that area changes over time so we can adapt our water management and planning. 

The SRP Snowtography equipment was created to be:

  • Low cost
  • Low maintenance
  • Solar-powered
  • Self-contained
  • Theft- and vandalism-resistant

What is the Snowtography season?

Snowtography records year-round, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Why does Snowtography take pictures year-round?

Snowtography takes pictures year-round so our team can study how the environment and climate are changing in the long term.

For example, Snowtography cameras are set up at locations where both pine trees and juniper trees grow. To keep track of an area’s overall seasonal health, changes in the trees and plants are recorded.

To see how the water flow changes over time, we compare images from each year. This helps us to better plan and manage our future water supply.

Besides snow, what wildlife have you caught on camera?

At the SRP Snowtography sites, the cameras have recorded:

  • Elk
  • Deer
  • A nearby camper’s dog
  • Occasional hikers or hunters

But even occasional animal sightings are helpful for our team. The behavioral patterns of animals during a specific season and elevation can provide insight into the health of that area’s watershed.

Attend SRP’s free virtual Water Expo

Hear from experts and learn more about the Valley’s water supply and how we manage it at SRP’s virtual Water Expo.

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