Wednesday, January 11, 2012

More on the Quirky Snow Season of 2011-12

In a winter this quiet, it's been a struggle to come up with ideas about what to discuss. I could talk about brief cold snaps, debates over pattern changes, modeled snow events that may or may not happen (not that there have been many), among other topics. We could discuss how weather impacts voter turnout, but that's a topic for another time. I'm a numbers kind of guy...I like interesting, quirky stats about weather. Sometimes I think that's even more interesting than forecasting! So with that, let's talk about some quirky snow statistics.

The Upstate New York Snow Drought

While it may not be technically a drought, Upstate NY is one of the snowiest places in the country, with Syracuse ranking as the snowiest major city in the country by most metrics. That said, this year has featured quite a departure in the snow department thus far there. Some stats...

Syracuse, NY: 12.9", Normal: 53.1" (-40.2")
Buffalo, NY: 5.5", Normal: 45.3" (-39.8")
Rochester, NY: 7.3", Normal: 38.1" (-30.8")

The least snowy winter in Syracuse since 1950 was the winter of 2001-02, when they saw a putrid 59.1". Syracuse's snow totals can often be considered somewhat inflated compared to the majority of the metro area, as Hancock International Airport is several miles north of the city, in the northern suburbs, closer to the lake effect snow belt. All of these cities should at least add to their snow totals in the coming days, though it may be hit or miss in spots. The NAM forecast of snow from this morning is posted on the left below, and you can see at least a few inches are likely in NY and New England, though most should fall south of Buffalo and northeast of Syracuse (also note finally a fair amount of snow for places like Milwaukee and Chicago).

From the "Did You Know?" department: The cities of Upstate New York vie annually for the (perhaps, not so) coveted Golden Snowball Award! The battle is waged each winter between Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, and Albany. The winner is that city which records the most snowfall during the winter season. Syracuse has won the award over 50 times since the 1940s! The official stats are located here, including some details on disputed championships, especially by Buffalo, in the 1940s. Buffalo, however, holds the title of most snow in a season with just shy of 200" back in the epic winter of 1976-77. It's a fun game to play during winter, and having lived in Upstate NY, I can tell you, it's not always an award you want.

Midland, TX Snow

If the Golden Snowball were expanded to include the Lone Star State, at this point, it would be given to Midland, TX. For real? Yep. Midland, in Western Texas, an area plagued by drought last year, recorded 10.6" of snow yesterday, a daily record, and their seasonal snowfall total now stands at 19.5", which is an all-time record. This outpaces not only Upstate NY, but also Minneapolis (10.3"), Duluth (12"), Chicago (1.9"), and Burlington, VT (15.1").

Western US Drought

Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center
West-wide, we've seen a drought of snow this winter. In general, precipitation has been running behind overall as well. In California, the Sierra sits at about 14% of normal snowfall for the season. On the left, you can see the map of percent of normal precipitation over the last two months. What you'll notice is that there's a lot of red, orange, yellow, and brown. Essentially no one in the West, with the possible exception of New Mexico, has seen anywhere near normal snowfall or rain this winter. The best ski conditions in the country can in fact be found in New Mexico. Places like Colorado and California have struggled, though snowmaking is helping to at least lighten the blow some. Interestingly, if you go just north of the US/Canada border, they've had a great winter in parts of British Columbia.

Alaska Snow

With all this said about wimpy snow and snow in strange places, you had to figure Alaska had something interesting to offer too. Well, they do. And in fact, if you wanted consistent winter this year, Alaska is the place to be. Here are some numbers....

Anchorage: 81.4", Normal: 42.0" (+39.4")
Juneau: 72.7", Normal: 37.2" (+35.5")
Barrow: 57.1", Normal: 24.7" (+32.4")

And last but not least....

Valdez: 303.4", Normal: 147.6" (+155.8"!)

That last number is astounding on almost every possible level. Alaska has been hit harder than anyone in the US this winter. Issues getting needed supplies to rural parts of the state are piling up as quickly as the snow.

Here's an NPR report on Cordova, AK and its issues.
More details from Anchorage's News Tribune

All in all, the Winter of 2011-12 is going to go down, if not for anything, for the snow in Alaska and the unbelievably paltry amount of snow received in other typically snowy areas during (at least) the first half of winter.