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Japan project seeks public snowflake pics to improve snow forecasts

A sectored plate snow crystal is seen in this photo provided by researcher Kentaro Araki. The shape of snow crystals changes depending on atmospheric conditions.

The Japan Meteorological Agency's Meteorological Research Institute in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, has launched a project calling on Kanto region residents to send in their snapshots of snowflakes to help improve snow forecasts.

    Anybody with a smartphone or camera can participate. By analyzing a large number of photos, officials hope they will be able to more accurately predict snowfall in Japan's Kanto region, which often proves difficult.

    Snow is brought to the Kanto region by the so-called "nangan" (south coast) low pressure system, but the amount of snow that falls and the question of whether it will snow or rain are determined by various changing factors such as the path of the low pressure system and the temperatures near the ground.

    Kentaro Araki, a researcher at the Meteorological Research Institute, says that over the Kanto plains, in particular, there remains much to be known. Examining the shape of snow crystals, however, is helpful in determining the condition inside the clouds that bring snow, such as the amount of water vapor and the temperature. The only problem is that up until now the task of collecting samples was up to researchers, and so the amount of data was small.

    Last year when Tokyo saw its first snow of the season in November for the first time in 54 years, researchers tried asking the public to send in photos of snow crystals. Over the course of two weeks, people sent in about 5,000 photos. It became evident that the snow crystals were changing according to the place and time.

    "There's a saying that 'snow is a letter sent from heaven," Araki said. "Combined with cloud observation data, we hope we can establish a highly accurate method for distinguishing between rain and snow, and improve the accuracy of snowfall forecasts for the Kanto-Koshin region in the future.

    Information on how to take and send photos is available (in Japanese) at the following URL: http://www.mri-jma.go.jp/Dep/fo/fo3/araki/snowcrystals.html

    A stellar dendrite snow crystal is seen in this photo provided by researcher Kentaro Araki. The shape of snow crystals changes depending on atmospheric conditions.

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