D.C., Philly and New York have seen no snow this winter. What’s going on?
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If you’re a snow fan or ski area owner in much of the northeast quadrant of the Lower 48, the situation is grim.
Below-average snowfall extends along the entire Interstate 95 corridor from North Carolina to Maine. In Washington, Philadelphia and New York, no measurable snow fell.
Inland areas are not faring much better. Snowfall in the Allegheny Mountains is 2 to 3 feet below average. Amounts are also below normal in the Catskills of New York and the Green and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Warm weather pushes Northern Hemisphere snowpack to near record levels
While snow continues to pile up in the West, there are no clear signs that the East will see more snow in the near future.
Multiple cities approaching late first accumulation records
Several cities along the East Coast are closing in on their last snow season start on record due to a lack of measurable snow:
New York City: This winter has gone the ninth longest without measurable snow. The last first measurable snow is January 29. Philadelphia: This winter has gone 12th longest without measurable snow. Its first last measurable snowfall is February 3, although it did not snow in the winter of 1972-1973. Atlantic City: This winter has gone 13th longest without measurable snow. The first and last measurable snowfall is February 16. Baltimore: This winter has gone 11th longest without measurable snow. The last first measurable snowfall is February 21. Washington: This winter has gone the 16th longest without measurable snow. The last first measurable snow is February 23rd.
In New York City and Philadelphia, the first accumulated winter precipitation is already over a month later than average. In Washington, it’s more than two weeks late.
Average first accumulated snowfall has been shifting later in the calendar year over time across much of the coastal Northeast due to climate change and urbanization.
Snow is also in short supply in New England. Boston has received a small 1.2 inches. That’s about 13.5 inches below average. In Portland, Maine, 6.8 inches so far compares to an average of 22.6 inches.
Snow in the interior of the Northeast has also fallen
In many sub-snowy winters, you can still go to the mountains to find powder. Not so much this season.
Lest anyone think the bounty of snow around Buffalo — where a brutal storm hit around Christmas — is widespread, consider that nearby Syracuse has received just 20.1 inches compared to an average of 49.8 through Jan. 10. Similarly, only 9.3 inches has fallen in Rochester compared to an average of 36.7 inches year to date.
In Burlington, Vt., only 17.5 inches fell compared to the 32.6 inches average so far. In the mountains northeast of Burlington, snow totals this season are generally 2 feet or more below average, including Mount Mansfield, whose snow depths have flirted with the lowest on record.
At Mount Washington, NH, in the White Mountains, the 73.6 inches of snow so far is 43.6 inches below average.
The snow drought continues as one travels south through the Appalachians.
The coldest and snowiest parts of the Mid-Atlantic have seen historically low snowfall so far. In the Canaan Valley, one of West Virginia’s coldest and snowiest regions, amounts are about 42 inches below average so far. Elkins, W.Va., has recorded just 3.8 inches to date, compared to an average of 24.8 inches.
Canaan Valley: A part of Canada just 125 miles from Washington
Similarly, peaks along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee are about a foot to a foot and a half below average.
Great contrast from the west
The West Coast is stealing most of the East Coast’s snow as a parade of storms bombard California. Since the West is so dependent on that snowpack for its water resources, the high accumulation of feet in the Sierra Nevada and nearby mountains is generally good news.
Some of the highest peaks in the Sierra have seen totals 200 to 250 or more inches above average to date, or already close to the typical total for an entire winter. Mammoth Mountain in the eastern Sierra reported 310 inches Tuesday morning, compared to its seasonal average of 400 inches, with heavy snow still falling.
Since the jet streams tend to be wavy, if there is a dip in the West, helping to pull storms from the ocean, there will often be a bump in the East, pushing the storms away.
Changing the pattern ahead to increase the chances of snow?
The chances of a cold and snowy pattern developing in the Northeast US are not great for the next one to two weeks. But because it’s mid-winter when temperatures are generally coldest, snow can sometimes still develop on short notice — even in a mild pattern.
The pattern may become more favorable for snow in the East starting around January 20th. This is when the jet stream pattern can reverse – blocking the storm’s attack in the West and allowing cold air to return to the East.
However, the strong westerly jet stream may be difficult to break, so computer models touting this pattern change may be wrong.
Snow lovers are probably best advised to head West for reliable snow until further notice.