This is a very specific question that is being debated in my lab but I think has broader implications as well.

In which direction should snow depth be presented visually?

We are hydrologists and typically in the field we map moisture using darker blues to represent more moisture. However, we map snow depth a lot and in this case it's confusing because snow is white. Some folks use the Blues palette from colorbrewer2.org but when you plot snow depth 0-max as white-blue, it takes a second to adjust your perception because snow is intuitively white. I've compromised by using the Purple-Blue (PuBu) palette from light purple-blue because the purple doesn't stand out as much as white and I think the differences in colors as a multihue palette compared to a single hue palette are easier to perceive.

are there any thoughts as to whether we should abide by the defacto standard in the field (more water=blue) or switch to make the maps fit our instincts? Is there a good rule of thumb for this? Thanks!


1 Answer 1


The snow-depth maps presented by the US National Weather Service seem to work well, with a color scale starting with a silver-gray (not pure white) running into blues, purples and browns. This overlays nicely onto their mapping of elevation. Here's an example:

snow depth map

I don't think that this corresponds to any of the standard Color Brewer palettes, but I suspect that the Weather Service did a good deal of study before coming up with this scheme. The site linked above shows additional color schemes for snow water equivalent, melt, sublimation, and so on. I'm not a professional hydrologist, but as someone somewhat obsessed with both snow and maps I've found the Weather Service schemes to be worthy of being a standard.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for providing snodas as an example . I'm aware of the snodas maps although I've never particularly liked the colors. But of note they minimized the use of white. $\endgroup$
    – Dominik
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 6:45

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