Sunday, March 4, 2012

Goodbye Mr. Snowman

Image Credit: Climate Central.
Not a snowflake to be had this winter.  Even Jack Frost didn't show much over the winter.  There were cold snaps and hard freezes, but little precipitation.  In mid-February there was some sleet mixed with light rain, but this was the closest we came to wintry precipitation.

This was the 10th warmest winter on record and the 12th driest for the Columbia area.  It was the warmest winter in 40 years with records dating back to 1887.

Image Credit: Climate Central.
Why was it so warm and dry?  It was a combination of La Nina and a very positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation.  Last year was a La Nina year as well, but the Arctic Oscillation was in a very negative phase.  This produced a cold winter and resulted in snow.

The image to the right shows that Columbia receives about 1.4" of snow each year on average.  Our greatest snowfall occurred in February 1973 with 18" of snow in one day.  This was the result of an historic snowstorm that move across the Southeast producing up to 24" of snow in the town of Rimini.

The average snowfall is a little misleading.  Columbia has only measured snow in 32 of the  past 62 years as the chart below shows.  In addition the snowstorm of 1973 skewed the average a little.  However, the city did receive over 8" of snow two winters ago and almost 5" last winter.

Columbia Snowfall 1950-2012.  To view an interactive chart click here.  Image Credit: Climate Central.

In fact, there have only been four winters since 1950 that have seen more than 5" of snow.  This and the fact that we only see snow every other winter on average makes it a novelty in the Midlands.  It is hard for northerners to fathom the fascination with the white stuff.  When it does snow it often disappears the next day.

We have not been alone this year.  Much of the country has been suffering through a snow drought which I wrote about in a previous post.  The situation has not changed much since then.  At least Alaska saw plenty of snow which has been good for the Iditarod which got underway today.