Accurate estimation of snow mass is important for the characterization of the hydrological cycle at different space and time scales. For effective water resources management, accurate estimation of snow storage is needed. Conventionally, snow depth is measured at a point, and in order to monitor snow depth in a temporally and spatially comprehensive manner, optimum interpolation of the points is undertaken. Yet the spatial representation of point measurements at a basin or on a larger distance scale is uncertain. Spaceborne scanning sensors, which cover a wide swath and can provide rapid repeat global coverage, are ideally suited to augment the global snow information. Satellite-borne passive microwave sensors have been used to derive snow depth (SD) with some success. The uncertainties in point SD and areal SD of natural snowpacks need to be understood if comparisons are to be made between a point SD measurement and satellite SD. In this paper three issues are addressed relating satellite derivation of SD and ground measurements of SD in the northern Great Plains of the United States from 1988 to 1997. First, it is shown that in comparing samples of ground-measured point SD data with satellite-derived 25 ?? 25 km2 pixels of SD from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Special Sensor Microwave Imager, there are significant differences in yearly SD values even though the accumulated datasets showed similarities. Second, from variogram analysis, the spatial variability of SD from each dataset was comparable. Third, for a sampling grid cell domain of 1?? ?? 1?? in the study terrain, 10 distributed snow depth measurements per cell are required to produce a sampling error of 5 cm or better. This study has important implications for validating SD derivations from satellite microwave observations. ?? 2005 American Meteorological Society.