CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – The woman who makes official government snowfall measurements in her back yard says Concord is even more tantalizingly close to a record winter than the National Weather Service is reporting.

DeAnne Fortier counts 1.7 more inches of snow than the National Weather Service, and she and Jim Mansfield – the weather service official responsible, agree that getting the number right is important.

If a storm big enough to break the record comes along – unlikely, but far from impossible – “We’d like to say that we broke it,” Fortier said Friday. “The question is, did we really break it?”

The government began keeping track of snowfall in New Hampshire’s capital a few years after the Civil War, and the 122-inch record was set in 1873-74, when Ulysses S. Grant was president.

Fortier, whose day job is for the state retirement system, gets paid modestly to go into her yard as many as four times a day to measure and call in reports. She has measured 119.7 inches so far.

But weather service records show 118 inches. Mansfield, the data acquisition manager at the agency’s regional office in Gray, Maine, said Friday he is looking into the discrepancy.

“I’m not going to say who’s right and who’s wrong,” he said.

Mansfield said he routinely checks reports from contract observers like Fortier against what gets recorded.

The weather service used to take measurements itself at Concord Airport, which is near Fortier’s home, but switched to contractors about a dozen years ago.

The agency uses automated equipment to collect data including temperature and wind speed, but uses people holding rulers to measure snowfall. As laughably low-tech as that is, both Mansfield and Fortier said it’s probably the most accurate way to measure snow.

Snow drifts, for one thing, and it can switch quickly to or from rain. Its depth also is affected by such things as the proximity of trees and other windbreaks and objects such as walls that absorb and radiate heat.

Observers pick their spots carefully and use flat, white-painted boards (which reflect sunlight) as bases for measurements.

That said, it’s not an exact science. Fortier was on vacation in Florida during the third week in January when 13 inches of snow fell in Concord. At least that’s what the weather service recorded, though it’s not clear who measured it or reported it.

Fortier told the weather service she’d be away, and that her regular backup – her housemate – would be with her.

The crocuses are up and most, but by no means all, of the snowbanks have melted. But Fortier is hoping for one more decent snow.

“This year, I’ve had enough of it, like everyone else has,” she said. “I’m ready for spring. But I’d love for us to have another six-inch storm so we can break the record.”

Mansfield said that could happen as late as May, but Fortier shouldn’t hold her breath.

“Obviously the chances of getting one of those surprise spring snowstorms decreases day by day as get farther into April,” he said. “But it could happen.”

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AP-ES-04-11-08 1515EDT

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