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Just how abnormal is this year’s lack of snow?

Posted by Zeninjor Enwemeka  January 18, 2012 10:02 AM

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Looking back at the past several winters, we have certainly had our share of snow. Since the winter of 2000-2001, six winters have given much of New England significantly snowier totals than the 100 year average. Think of this winter as the climate’s way of balancing snowier years with those winters with lighter amounts. From 1936-1937, Boston had only nine inches of snow the entire winter. That winter stands as the only single digit snowfall total since snow records began back in 1890. While I am not forecasting us to break that record, it does show that winters with very low snowfall totals do occur. As recently as 2006-2007, Boston received only about 17 inches the entire winter. A quick review of all the winters since 1890 here in Boston shows highly variable snowfall totals. Some years we have heavy snowfalls, some very light. In those 120 winters, not even 1/3 had what is considered an average snowfall. In other words, we have more years with low or high snowfall totals than those in the “normal” range.

Snowfall is also highly variable not only from year to year, but also area to area. For example, think back to the recent October storm, and it is interesting to me that Logan Airport recorded only 1”, while nearby Newton had nearly 4”, and of course, further west and north saw up to 30”.

This year, snow depth across the country is much lower than it was at the exact same point in the winter last year. Take a look at the two images below of snow depth for January 15th 2011 and 2012. Notice how this year the bare ground extends up through southern New England and even along the New Hampshire coast. Last year, look how deep the snow was across the entire northern 1/3 of the USA while this year what snow there is has not grown to depths even ½ of 2011.



So should we be concerned that this year is the start of some new pattern of snowless winters? Absolutely not, winters like this one are just part of our normal cycle. Weather is what happens day to day or year to year while climate has a much longer time span. A low snow year such as we are observing in 2012 is just weather. This year’s weather is no more or less important to the climate than was our very snowy winter of 2011. No one should use this year or any year to make judgments about our climate and how or why it changes.

So what does the rest of the winter hold in terms of our snowfall? If I could know that with certainty, I would be a very wealthy meteorologist. However, experience and some back of the envelope statistics don’t bode well for snow lovers. The deeper into winter we go without much snow; the less and less likely we will be to have a snowy winter. Snow breeds snow, and persistence in forecasting is also the smart thing to do when in these patterns. Could we see a big storm in February, March, or even into April and May? Sure. Is it likely to happen? No. But I wouldn’t put the shovel away just yet.

Follow me on Twitter at @growingwisdom and check out my latest videos at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

David Epstein has been a professional meteorologist and horticulturalist for three decades. David spent 16 years at WCVB in Boston and currently freelances for WGME in Portland, ME. In 2006, More »
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