Across Eastern North America, A Winter Snow Drought

January 31, 2023

Here in my Central Michigan area, (43 degrees north) we finally broke a spell of bare ground that stretched from right after a Christmas day snow melted almost immediately, when a decent 5 inches of powder finally fell on Saturday night.
It’s not unheard of to have bare ground in Michigan in January, but normally one would expect that ground to be frozen, and grass to be brown and dormant. The yard’s been squishy and green more like late march or early April for most of a month. Aside from some areas hit by gigantic Lake effect storms, it’s pretty widespread across the East.

I’ve not been able to find the word “climate” in this Wall Street Journal account of a record string of snowless days in New York City.

Wall Street Journal:

In New York, a mystery has captivated the city: Where is the snow?

It hasn’t snowed across New York City in 326 days, meteorologists say, dashing dreams of a white Christmas, sledding in the park or building a snowman.

The city broke the record on Sunday for the longest start to a winter without snow, according to the National Weather Service. The 1973 winter had set the record, when it didn’t snow until Jan. 29. The agency’s snowfall records date to 1869. 

New Yorkers typically dust off their snow boots by the middle of December, when the city often gets its first snowfall, according to the agency.

Instead of snow this winter, there has been plenty of rain and drizzles, forcing New Yorkers to swap their snow boots for umbrellas. Some residents have been anticipating their first flurries while others are looking forward to a cozy snow day.

Other East Coast cities are also setting records for snowless winters, including Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., according to the National Weather Service.

Danielle Leong, 35 years old, has been waiting her whole life for what she called “the quintessential New York winter experience.” She moved to Brooklyn from California last year.

“I was excited for my first white Christmas and that did not happen,” said Ms. Leong, a vice president of engineering at a startup.

She said she hasn’t mailed out her Christmas cards yet because she is waiting to take pictures in the snow. As soon as it snows, she said she plans to run outside, jump around and make a snowball.

Meteorologists say there isn’t one particular reason why people like Ms. Leong haven’t seen any snow in New York this winter.

“We just haven’t been in a favorable pattern for it this year,” said James Tomasini, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New York. He added that last winter it snowed on Christmas Eve.

Below, the Detroit Free Press does discuss climate in the context of low ice cover on the Great Lakes.

Detroit Free Press:

Several days of frigid temperatures around Michigan didn’t put much of a dent into the record-warm Great Lakes.

The lakes collectively are only about 3% ice-covered, and scientists are forecasting a peak ice cover of only 12.3% this winter. That would be the lowest since 12% in the winter of 2002, which was the lowest ice year on the Great Lakes since record-keeping began in 1973.

“Now we’re back into a warmup after a few days of cooling. The lakes right now are wide open,” said Jia Wang, ice climatologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

The long-term average annual maximum ice cover on the Great Lakes is 55%. The northernmost Great Lake, Superior, in a typical winter averages almost 64% ice cover. Forecasters this year expect the biggest Great Lake to only achieve about 8.5% coverage.

Although ice coverage varies greatly from winter to winter — the collective Great Lakes were nearly 93% ice-covered in 2014 — the longer term trend shows less winter lake ice, as human-influenced climate change causes the Great Lakes region to warm faster than the rest of the U.S. 

Among other impacts, it has the potential to harm fish habitat — species such as whitefish rely on ice cover to protect spawning beds from winter storms — and fuel more and heavier spring rains, a potential detriment to agriculture.

More immediately, the open, warmer-than-usual Great Lakes will continue to churn lake-effect snow into next month. Lake-effect snows occur when frigid air passes over warmer water, acting like a snow-making machine.

For the moment, looking more normal

One Response to “Across Eastern North America, A Winter Snow Drought”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Meanwhile, an ice storm in central Texas meant an appointment that needed five weeks of lead time to schedule got canceled this afternoon, and I had to cancel my fortnightly cleaning crew for tomorrow. I’m merely inconvenienced, but lost work is a hardship for a lot of people. 😦

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