If we can trust the forecasts, at 1 a.m. EST Saturday, a new era in snow measurement will begin at Philadelphia International Airport.
Per government specifications, a newly retained contractor will stick a ruler into any accumulated snow – and chances are good that some will have fallen by then – and record the official "Philadelphia" snow amount.
But technically the measurement will be taken in Tinicum Township, Delaware County, not in Philadelphia. And, no, this is not an attempt to avoid the soda tax.
In addition, the National Weather Service tells us that the official Philadelphia thermometer is in Tinicum, and has been for 25 years. The only official reading taken in the city limits is for barometric pressure.
After a tumultuous election campaign, a rather disturbing government report about Arctic warming, not to mention the enormous holiday-shopping pressures, one might reasonably ask: Should anyone care?
We put this cosmic question to Joe Miketta, the interim boss at the weather service Mount Holly office, and we can't argue with his answer, "No."
But as he said it is quite an "interesting tidbit."
The better question might be, why on earth are Philadelphia's official measurements taken at the airport, which, almost everyone agrees, isn't representative of the region's climate?
The short answer is continuity. After moving around 10 different Center City locations for 70 years, It's been done at the airport since 1940.
Of course, that environment has undergone some cosmic changes over the years, and it is near a swamp and a river. Also, the station has moved twice, most recently across the Tinicum line in December 1995, when an automated system was installed.
Although the temperature readings arguably would be of more substantive interest in the climatological community, we would guess that snow would generate the most interest.
Snow measurement has long been a source of contentiousness in the weather community, as we recounted in an earlier post.
The automated system has one major limitation: It can't measure snow. That requires humans, humans willing to measure every six hours, at 1 a.m., 7 a.m., 1 p.m., and 7 p.m..
For the last several years, the measuring was done by a contractor in National Park. This winter, an airport-based company will take over the responsibility – at a site in Tinicum.
In the Court of Common Sense, it might be better if "Philadelphia" measurements were taken in Philadelphia, says, behind the Art Museum, or on Lemon Hill.