Extreme Temperature Diary- Wednesday December 1st, 2023/Main Topic: Can the East Coast Snow Drought Be Linked to Climate Change?

Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are experiencing record-long snow drought – The Washington Post

As winter nears, snow is the forgotten precipitation along East Coast

A historic snow drought is ongoing from Virginia to New York

By Ian Livingston

November 28, 2023 

From southern Virginia to New York City, nearly two years have elapsed since the last time an inch or more of snow fell on a calendar day. In several locations, the snow drought is the longest on record. The lack of snow has occurred during abnormally warm winters and amid a trend toward declining amounts of snow — both probable consequences of human-caused climate change.

New York’s Central Park received an inch of snow on one calendar day 652 days ago, its longest streak without that much snow in records dating to 1869. In the Washington region, Dulles International Airport has a similar record-long streak ongoing.

Inside a historically snowless winter in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast

Even typically cold and snowy places in the parts of the Northeast are not receiving the amount of snow to which they are accustomed. Boston and Pittsburgh, for example, have not recorded more than 3 inches of snow on a calendar day in almost two years.

The burning question is whether these streaks of snowlessness will end in the weeks and months ahead.

The Northeast snow drought, by the numbers

Feb. 13, 2022, was the last time New York’s Central Park recorded more than an inch of snow in a day, and it was a mere 1.6 inches. Its record-setting 652-day streak is 269 days longer than the next-longest streak, which spanned 1997 and 1998.

Longest streaks without one day featuring a 1 inch or greater snowfall in New York City’s Central Park:

Feb. 14, 2022 to Nov. 27, 2023652 days
March 4, 1997 to March 21, 1998383 days
Jan. 17, 1954 to Feb. 1, 1955381 days
Feb. 7, 1985 to Jan. 27, 1986355 days
Jan. 26, 1988 to Jan. 5, 1989346 days
March 8, 1899 to Feb. 16, 1900346 days
Feb. 18, 1986 to Jan. 18, 1987335 days
April 13, 1918 to March 13, 1919335 days
Feb. 5, 1913 to Jan. 4, 1914334 days
March 3, 2006 to Jan. 29, 2007333 days
Feb. 27, 1991 to Jan. 25, 1992333 days

Source: Applied Climate Information System IAN LIVINGSTON  THE WASHINGTON POST

The Big Apple is far from alone. Many Mid-Atlantic locations have similar streaks.

In the Washington area, Dulles Airport’s streak is 625 days and counting. Baltimore, with a streak of 668 days, is closing in on the record of 672 days that ended in late December 2012.

Some other locations that have registered historically long periods without a calendar-day inch of snow include:

  • Philadelphia: 667 days, the city’s longest on record
  • Lynchburg, Va.: 680 days, second-longest
  • Wallops Island, Va.: 667 days, third-longest
  • Richmond: 681 days, fourth-longest
  • Washington: 680 days, fifth-longest

North and west of the above locations, places that are colder and snowier also have experienced major snow deficits. They have encountered unusually long periods without at least 3 inches of snow falling in a calendar day. Those places include:

  • Elkins, W.Va.: 625 days (without 3 inches in a calendar day), third longest on record
  • Boston: 640 days, third-longest
  • Pittsburgh: 625 days, fourth-longest
  • Islip, N.Y.: 652 days, fourth-longest
  • Allentown, Pa.: 625 days, fifth-longest

These streaks have reached historic levels largely because of last winter, when snow amounts for the full winter were minuscule:

  • Washington received 0.4 inches, third-least on record.
  • Philadelphia received 0.3 inches, a tie for the second-least on record with 2019-2020.
  • Manhattan’s Central Park received 2.3 inches, its lowest amount on record.
  • Boston received 12.4 inches, fourth-least on record and more than 3 feet below average.

The lack of snow last winter extended a longer period of snowlessness. In Washington, 3 of the past 4 winters have brought below-average snow, including two with hardly any. In Philadelphia, New York and Boston, snowfall has been below average in 4 of the past 5 winters.

Improved snow prospects?

Even amid a warming climate and trends toward less snow, these streaks should not last forever. And this winter presents a strong opportunity for the streaks to end.

The increased snow prospects stem from the ongoing El Niño climate pattern, which tends to increase winter moisture in the South and Mid-Atlantic.

Historically, some of the Mid-Atlantic’s snowiest winters have occurred during El Niños, although some El Niños end up being so mild that little snow falls.

In the Northeast, Appalachians and Ohio Valley, moisture is sometimes harder to come by during El Niños. But even in these areas, there’s a somewhat elevated risk for a large snowstorm.

The long streaks without significant snowfall will become more probable in a warming world, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic, where temperatures often are only marginally low enough to support frozen precipitation. Just a little warming will mean that more precipitation falls as rain. Farther north and northwest, many areas will remain cold enough for snow to hang on longer.

By Ian Livingston Ian Livingston is a forecaster/photographer and information lead for the Capital Weather Gang. By day, Ian is a defense and national security researcher at a D.C. think tank. Twitter

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