You've probably heard the WCAX Weather team talking about it, but may not have seen it before. The "stake" the Weather team references is located around 4,000 feet above sea level, near the top of Mount Mansfield, just below the WCAX transmitter.
Getting there was quite a feat. We took the quad up Stowe Mountain Resort. Fred Lavenberg, a WCAX transmitter engineer, then took us up the rest of the way on a snowmobile. We ran into some adventurous folks hiking past the stake, anxious to take a run on some fresh powder. They use the stake as reference for skiing.
"So by this time last year there was probably 4 or 5 feet, which starts to make this stuff so you can't ski. This year we've got 7 feet April second," said John Stafford of Stowe.
Some may argue that the stake is not that scientific. But Stafford says it's a helpful indicator of the amount of snow in the woods.
"All spots are different on the mountain, but this is a pretty good representation of what it's gonna be like on the whole upper band. It's pretty protected from the wind," Stafford said.
WCAX put the stake in place 59 years ago. While its location hasn't moved, it has gone through some changes.
"It was rebuilt in 1971. Our former chief engineer, Ted Teffner, painted with paint that we use for painting antennas," Lavenberg said.
In the winter 2000 to 2001, the stake snow depth surpassed 12 feet, so the stake needed to be modified.
"We actually had to add some feet to the stake because it was a particularly heavy snow year," Lavenberg noted.
During the winter months, a staff member from the WCAX transmitter takes a daily snowfall measurement at the stake; they also record other weather information.
Every day around 4 p.m. the person on staff at the transmitter comes out with a gauge and ruler and takes a reading on the amount of snow and or rain that's in the gauge. It then gets reported to the National Weather Service.
Weather data records have been kept since the 1950s-- a history of the top of Mount Mansfield. It's also where Channel 3's transmitter does its work.
"The signal arrives by microwave from the studio in South Burlington. It's processed by a couple pieces of equipment," Lavenberg explained.
The digital signal then enters the transmitter and it's broadcast to your home on channel 3.1.
The next time you see the mountain, you might think of it a little differently.
Please remember, if you do hike up and find the stake, don't get too close. It could mess with the accuracy of the snowfall data.
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