Even though the temperature is slowly ticking up across the country, we still can't get over the traumas we suffered this winter. The first half of the winter wasn't all that bad, but that last month or two was brutal. Here's a look at how the season's snow totals stacked up in cities around the country.
The whole story of the winter was record heat and drought in the west paired with near-record cold and heavy snow in portions of the eastern United States. We've previously covered the stark temperature divide between the two halves of the country, but it's interesting to compare snowfall totals between different cities, especially now that the odds of people south of the 42nd parallel seeing snow are pretty low.
The two big snow stories this season was the blockbuster in Boston, along with the winter that didn't happen along the mountain ranges out west. Let's start with Boston.
Boston's Record Snow
Provided they don't see any additional snowfall, it looks like Boston will top out at 110.6 inches of snow for the season, most of which fell in just a handful of storms in January and February. This is the snowiest season ever recorded in Boston, and probably the most snow the city has seen in several centuries. The previous record was busted by the long, brutal winter of 1995-1996, which set snowfall records up and down the megalopolis.
The city's top two seasons couldn't have been more different. The winter of 95-96 was a slow and steady race to the top of the salt heap, while this winter thumped residents all at once, which inflicted a greater amount of psychological and physical pain than the steady build-up seen 19 years earlier.
What's interesting is that both 95-96 and 14-15 saw roughly the same number of days with accumulating snow reported at Logan Airport. The snow that accumulated to 107.6 inches by April 11, 1996, fell over the course of 38 days, while the snow that walloped Boston this past winter fell on 36 different calendar days. Many of these storms occurred over a period that extended past midnight, so one storm could account for two (or even three) days of accumulating snow.
The major difference is that the winter 19 years ago saw a much more gradual buildup to the record total...it was death by a thousand flakes. This past winter started off much slower, but slammed down more than 90 inches of snow over the course of four storms between mid-January and mid-February.
Daily Snowfall for Select Cities
How did the snowfall add up in cities around the country? Well, since most of the snow fell in cities across the east, the majority of the list is populated by cities along the East Coast, as chosen by the biased East Coast pig who authored this post (I'll save you the trouble of writing insulting comments).
The above chart shows the seasonal snowfall total each day from October 30 through April 1, showing the winter's profile for fourteen cities from Salt Lake to New York.
While Boston had it rough, it doesn't come close to what some other cities have experienced. Buffalo, New York, right on the shores of the great lake effect snow machine, saw just a dusting more snow than Boston, coming in at 112.6 inches through April 1. I would have included some more cities up there, but they had such disproportionately high amounts of snow that it would have drowned out the smaller totals and made the above graphic useless.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is, as usual, one of the snowiest regions of the country thanks to the lake effect bands (and snowstorms) that sweep across the landmass. Sault Saint Marie, Michigan, has seen 165.9 inches of snow so far this year, with more possible over the next couple of weeks. As it stands, this total is just shy of 50 inches above average for the year. Marquette, Michigan, has seen 165.4 inches this season, which is actually below their average of 200.7 inches. That all pales in comparison to Marquette's snowiest season on record, when 319.8 inches (26.65 feet) of snow fell during the winter of 2001-2002.
Percent of Average
Elsewhere, cities like New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Greensboro N.C., Chicago, and Dallas all came in with snowfall totals above average for the year. The big winner was Dallas, where DFW airport recorded more than 300% of its yearly average—it sounds like more than it is, though. DFW's average snowfall is 1.9 inches, and they saw 5.8 inches this year. Most other cities west of the Mississippi (save for Denver) saw below-average snowfall for the year.
Speaking of below average...
The lack of snow in the Sierras is the elephant in the room when we talk about snowfall this winter. Current snowpack in California is only 5% of normal, which is the lowest level ever recorded since they began taking measurements in 1950. On a survey yesterday, researchers at Phillips Station reported no snow on the ground at a spot where there's usually more than five feet of accumulation at the beginning of April, a first since 1940. The previous record-low measurement at this spot was just over one inch, set back in 1988.
Here's an image slider that lets you compare satellite images from April 1, 2015, and happier times just four years earlier. Not only is the lack of snowpack noticeable, but you can see how much more barren the landscape looks today compared to 2011.
The record low amounts of snow sounds like it only affects skiers and photographers, but more than one-quarter of California's water supply is generated by the yearly snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada. When there's no snow, there's no snow to melt, which strains existing water supplies even further. The situation is ugly, and now that the wet season is over, it's going to keep getting worse.
Switching back from famine to feast, snowmelt is also a major concern east of the Rockies when we see a thick snowpack with spring looming on the horizon. Sudden warm-ups or heavy rainstorms can cause snow to rapidly melt, overwhelming area waterways and storm sewers, leading to some pretty ugly flooding problems.
The good news is that many areas of the northern United States—including New England—have seen days with high temperatures above freezing with cool nights that allow the snowpack to refreeze. This warm/cold cycle is hell on roads, roofs, and gutters, but it allows the snowpack to gradually melt instead of liquefying all at once and causing major headaches for area residents. The crappy GIF above shows the gradual snow melt between March 2 and today.
Overall, it was a pretty interesting/depressing/devastating/meteorologically fascinating winter, with numerous records broken on each side of the spectrum. Enjoy your seven-month break from the cold and snow...unless you're in the Northeast or the Great Lakes, of course. (Sorry.)
[Images: AP, author, MODIS Today/Google Earth, NOHRSC]