Snow is the Life for Yerdon

Carolyn Yerdon, holds sign of snow accumulation in Lewis County. 

BY: Norah Machia
Measuring the amount of heavy lake-effect snow dropped in your backyard each winter may not seem like a lot of fun, but National Weather Service Observer Carolyn Yerdon certainly seems to be enjoying it.

“It’s kind of boring to just take photos of snowbanks,” she said. “So I’ve tried to have some fun with it.”

   Since 1995, Mrs. Yerdon has been a volunteer for the National Weather Service, recording snowfall totals in Redfield, a small rural town on the Tug Hill Plateau. It’s worked well for her, because “the winds blow perfectly in this direction, and the snow dumps right on my house,” she said.

   The Tug Hill region has earned a reputation for record-breaking snowfall totals, the result of the infamous “lake-effect” snow that forms when frigid winds pick up moisture as they blow across Lake Ontario toward the higher elevations.

  During the 2016 – 2017 winter season, the town of Redfield earned national recognition for the more than 29 feet of snow that had fallen. It caught the attention of the USA Today Network, which announced the town would be the recipient of its first Golden Snowdrift Award for being the “snowiest place” in the Great Lakes region.

  Those types of records would not be possible, however, without people like Mrs. Yerdon, who volunteer their time to record daily snowfall totals for the National Weather Service.

  Her equipment?

  “It’s a white plastic board that sits in the yard or on my deck, and a nice stainless steel measuring stick,” she said “Nothing fancy.”

  Mrs. Yerdon was trained by meteorologists with the National Weather Service on how to accurately and precisely record snowfall totals. For example, she is not supposed to measure the snowfall more than four times in a 24-hour period during a heavy snowstorm.

 Her mission – to provide what she calls the “ground truth,” which reflects an accurate measurement of the snow that has fallen, she said. Mrs. Yerdon calls in these amounts each day to the National Weather Service, and if there is no snow, she still calls to let them know that as well.

   Mrs. Yerdon said she didn’t plan on being an official weather observer, rather, she just “fell into it.” It started off as a service to local television stations, which needed help in providing their viewers with up-to-date snowfall totals during the weather reports.

  But it wasn’t long before she caught the attention of the National Weather Service, because “my numbers were higher than everyone else,” she said. “I didn’t even know there was a need for this service until they contacted me.”

  Several years ago, Mrs. Yerdon decided to start a Twitter page to keep anyone who was interested updated on the heavy snowfall totals in the Tug Hill region.

  “I was doing Facebook posts at first, and that was okay to reach family and friends,” she said. “But about four years ago, I was introduced to Twitter. Now I use that strictly for my weather information.”

  Much to her surprise, her Twitter account has attracted more than 4,500 followers throughout the world (“some of my reports have even been translated into Spanish,” she said). The heavy snowfalls in the Tug Hill region seem to attract a lot of attention from people outside the area, who seem very curious about the lake-effect snow, even if they have no desire to experience it firsthand, she said.

   As of this writing, more than five feet of snow had already fallen in Redfield during the current winter season. Although the heavy snowfalls create a lot of work (shoveling snow and cleaning out driveways), Mrs. Yerdon does her best to have some fun with her weather reporting. She has posted a variety of photos on her Twitter page – including jumping off a snowbank and posing in the bucket of a tractor – even holding handmade signs with snowfall totals.

   The photos have been taken by her husband, Timothy, her son, Thomas, and in some cases, by herself with the help of a timer on her camera. “I don’t want to do the same thing every time,” she said. “The ideas just comes to me.”

  Her volunteer work does not stop, however, when the winter season ends. “All that snow melts in the spring, and what we have on the plateau runs downhill,” said Mrs. Yerdon, who also tracks snow melt and rain precipitation levels to help meteorologists anticipate potential areas for flooding.

  One more note – Mrs. Yerdon manages to fulfill her volunteer duties as an observer for the National Weather Service while holding down a full-time job as a special education teacher’s aide in the Sandy Creek Central School system.

   “The kids always say that Mrs. Yerdon just loves the snow,” she said.