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NWS accuracy for billing ???

Discussion in 'Commercial Snow Removal' started by KLMlawn, Dec 28, 2002.

  1. KLMlawn

    KLMlawn Member
    Messages: 67

    I just wanted to ask everyones opinion ...
    I have been able to find regularly updated NWS totals from the Upton, NY office for this past storm ... actually they have been pretty good this time around. The problem I think is that from the independent observer reports, it seems that they are reporting a bit more for some locations than it appeared to have actually fallen when I went to service the customers in those respective areas.
    My dillema is, do I still use the NWS reports, whether or not they are accurate for a given area, so as to have some way to show customers now and in the future that I am using an impartial method for billing, or should I be fair and only estimate the actual amount that seemed to have fallen and bill for that amount.
    Take into acount that we had about 2 inches of rain that changed over to snow as the storm progressed and during that changeover, perhaps the first inch or so was turned to slush and made for the following accumulations to be heavy and wet. A 6 inch accumulation of heavy wet snow could just as easily been 9-10" of light powdery stuff. But do the customers really care about that?? or do they just care that they only saw 6" on the ground, not what theoretically fell?
    I guess my question is, do you always use the NWS no matter what they report so as to show impartiallity or do you go on a case by case basis based on location and actual snowfall? If you chose the latter and give the customer the impression that the NWS is not infallable, then what is to say that next time when you bill for whatever amount is reported by the NWS, the customer will not argue that it was less?
     
  2. BWhite

    BWhite Senior Member
    Messages: 496

    NWS

    Your doing it the right and fair way but each customer will have their own way . I have found the the older people get the depth of snow seems greater to them ....A 3" trigger to a 30 yr old couple is more like 4-5 inches in there eyes and to the elderly a 3" trigger means 1-2 inches to them so whatever the NWS says is a good average but not in there driveways
     
  3. Mick

    Mick PlowSite.com Veteran
    from Maine
    Messages: 5,546

    Really a difficult question. If you use the "official" method to measure snow, you will take several measurements over the course of a snowfall, in different spots and start on bare surface for each measurement to avoid compaction. Then the measurements are added together for a total. The problem then is convincing the customer that they actually got 10 inches when they measured 7 or 8, after compacting, settling, melting etc.

    I take several measurement during a snowfall to monitor, but what it measures at the end is what I use. Then I usually knock off one or two inches for billing purposes. Again, this gets tricky. If your trigger is 3" and it snows 3", you won't knock off any or they will gripe about you plowing and charging for 2".

    Sometimes flexibility and sound judgement are better than facts and precise measurements.
     
  4. digger242j

    digger242j Senior Member
    Messages: 672

    The other disadvantage of using NWS measurements is that the reporting stations are often at the nearest airport and as the saying goes, nobody lives at the airport. What fell at the reporting station won't necessarily be the same amount that fell at the customer's location anyway, and we've seen great variations sometimes from one customer's location to another.

    It's not really an issue with us because we bill per push and explain from the outset that deeper snows might require multiple pushes. (I'm having a hard time remembering the last time that happened here...)

    All that having been said, I printed out the NWS data for the event we had here on Christmas. It showed 1.8 inches of snow, but .38 inches of precip. Using the rule of thumb of 10 to 1, that .38 inches would have been nearly four inches of snow. We plowed many of our accounts that had an inch of slush on the pavement, and if anyone complains we'll defend our actions based on our judgement that salt alone would not have been sufficient to clear that much water content once it became frozen. I think the NWS data will be useful in backing that judgement up.
     
  5. BRL

    BRL PlowSite.com - Veteran
    Messages: 1,277

    Be careful with that 10:1 general rule of thumb. From a lot of reading I've done lately and TWC watching, the 10:1 may happen most often (just over 50%), but that still leaves a lot of storms with a different ratio. We've had 2 snow falls here this year and they were 15:1 and 12:1.

    The snowfall totals that the NWS is reporting on their storm reports are Unofficial accumulations. In about 3-5 months they will verify those numbers and adjust as necessary & certify them. So while we are invoicing now, we are using unofficial numbers. The accumualtions posted are done through the Cooperative Observation Volunteers, who volunteer to keep weather records. The requirements to do this are such that one needs lots of time available to make accurate & correct weather data recordings. I had considered volunteering but I can't dedicate the time required, especially during winter weather events, which is the data that I'd really like to have LOL. The old Catch 22. Anyway for the last storm, it is possible that Mr. Jones didn't feel too good & may not have taken all of the accurate measurements that Mick mentioned, and Mrs. Smith may have been at the son in law's house for 12 hours celebrating Christmas during the worst part of the snow and missed some of her measurements. Etc. etc. So some of the totals listed with the preliminary Unofficial list will not be accurate.

    To KLM's question: In my case, there is only a coop observer in one of the 4 towns I service, and it is the furthest west & with most storms, the snowiest coldest area (and from what I've measured against his obs, he seems to be doing it correctly & accurately). So I don't use that measurement for the towns further east of there where I know there was 1"-3" less in many events. There is an observer 1 town to the east of my furthest east town, so I will generally take an average of those 2 obs for invoicing the accounts further east. So based on what you see the NWS obs to be, it may be fairest for client & contractor to take an average of the closest observation stations, as this may take into account the various discrepencies that can come up with taking these measurements. Over time I have learned which numbers to be suspectful of & which numbers to use for invoicing. I have never had a customer question the amounts I put so I feel I am being fair, and in many cases, as long as I've made my money for a storm I will use the lower number if it helps keep client costs down (for the good long term ones at least).

    I am amazed by all of the micro climates that I have discovered in my area. And each storm has its own character also. For Christmas my wife & I had some laughs. The guy driving my second truck called me when the first few flakes mixed in with the rain at the beginning of the changeover around 1:00PM. "relax, go have Christmas dinner, take a nap, I'll call you later this evening around 7:00 or so" I think he called me back 4 or 5 times before I left the in-laws around 7:30 PM to get to the first account that was opening at 8:00 PM. It was hard to get him to understand the concept that all of the places were closed for the holiday & that we didn't have to plow with the storm like usual LOL. So I plowed that lot & salted it & before I was done at 10:00PM he had called me 3 more times. I told him to meet me at my house at 10:30 & we'd get started from there. Well the LOL was on me because I was plowing barely 2" at that first account & when I got home a few miles away to meet him, there was 4 inches there. No wonder he was so antsy LOL. I would have maybe started him a little earlier had I known there was twice as much snow where most of the accounts are.
     
  6. KLMlawn

    KLMlawn Member
    Messages: 67

    OK, I have another question more directly related to the measurment or measuring itself ....
    What difference does it make (for our purposes of plowing and billing) if we take several measurements over the course of an event as opposed to just measuring what is on the ground after the last flake falls? It really wouldn't matter for most plowers if there was 4" or 12" on the ground at any given time provided that your trigger has been met .... and it wouldn't matter if you bill per push or in increments, as long as you start when your trigger is hit and have everything cleaned up nicely when the event is over and have followed the terms of your contract, then all that really matters is the final amount that fell ... right?
     
  7. Mick

    Mick PlowSite.com Veteran
    from Maine
    Messages: 5,546

    "What really matters is the final amount that fell - right?" For all intents and purpose - right. However, you might want to "plow with the storm".
     
  8. BRL

    BRL PlowSite.com - Veteran
    Messages: 1,277

    Exactly. I've been burned by NWS reports in the past where we plowed 4" on the first visit, 3" on the next visit, 2" on the last visit yet the closest "official\unnofficial" NWS measurement was 7.5" for the storm total. I wanted to bill for 9" but since the contract said we are using the NWS records I had to bill at 7.5" Of course the opposite has happened also, so it probably evens out in the end (hopefully).

    For those interested, here is the official NWS method for measuring snow, which could explain why you see some obs that don't match what you think really fell :rolleyes: :
    http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/coop/Publications/snowguid.htm
     
  9. digger242j

    digger242j Senior Member
    Messages: 672

    Like I said, we bill per push so it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. If I need to explain to a customer the dynamics of why we did what we did when we did it I'll keep it simple by using that "rule of thumb". The term rule of thumb implies that it's just a way of arriving at an approximate number. (And it sounds technical enough that it makes *me* think that I know what I'm talking about, and that's half the battle...) ;)