Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Forty North Syndrome

Some of our region's snowstarved take a quixotic quest sometimes for snow, longing and looking at any far-flung computer model that shows the slightest possibility of snow, running with it, hoping and wishing it comes true.

One thing the snowstarved hopefully realize is that our location, while beneficial to providing four distinct seasons, doesn't exactly provide us the beauty of a high average annual snowfall.  Nor do too many locations along 40 degrees north latitude, which passes through the northern burbs.   Average snows in many cities along the latitude line aren't significantly higher than ours (21.8") and those that are benefit from the presence from being a mile in the atmosphere (Denver) or in the Lakes snow belts (Pittsburgh).

As you head west along I-76 and then shoot west on I-70 through the country, most of the cities that lie along this interstate, which is generally just south of Philadelphia's latitude, experience pretty similar winters in terms of snowfall to ours.  Pittsburgh has the benefit of being downwind from the Great Lakes while Columbus can sometimes cash in on some bounty from Lake Michigan (although much more rare than Pittsburgh with lake effect).  The farther west you go, towards Indianapolis and then into Missouri, the lower the average winter snowfalls get until you reach Denver (thank you elevation).  In fact, St. Louis and Kansas City average less snow than us despite being colder in January and February than Philadelphia on average.

In their case, being in the middle of the continent doesn't help -- storm tracks have to be "just right" (like us) for them to cash in on not only cold but also snow since many times a large influx of Gulf moisture may push them from snow to rain.

We really don't have it so bad here...yeah, our snowfall is historically pretty variable so for every year we get 44" or 79" we're going to suffer through a couple of winters that may not that good from a snowfall standpoint.  Around 40% of our winters end up falling in the 15 to 25 inch snowfall category (52 of 128)...60% either provide more or less, with there being a very close split between less than 15" (35 years) and more than 25" (41).   Yep, that means you have a less than one in three shot annually of the city getting 25" of snow or more if you simply play the historical odds.

Snowlovers, if you are desperate for snow, elevation or a more northern location may be your friend.  Scranton averages 49" of snow, Binghamton over 80".  There is hope...and snow...but you have to head north or west (to Pittsburgh) and up in elevation to cash in on an annual basis!