Any winter season has a lot of buzz leading up with the anticipation, or fear in some cases, of snow. The strong El Nino this year has added to the hype, and while a big player, it is not the only factor for our winters on the east coast. As part of my winter outlook series, I love to show stats. Especially if there is an outside connection with snowfall and The Orioles post season success. But I am a stat guy. Being a math geek and weather geek go hand in hand sometimes, so once again I want to lay out the numbers before getting to my personal outlook for this winter. Considering that our last two winters in Baltimore had above average snowfall, could we get a third?
Looking back at the weather history in Baltimore, the records give us seasonal snowfall back to 1883. I’ve collected them in charts organized by decade to look for patterns. When just starting from 1900, there have been some identifiable extremes and patterns of extremes. In fact the least snowy winters on average were in the 1950, followed by the most snowy decade of the 1960s. There are more things I will discuss when I complete my winter page, but for now I wanted to compare to the recent pattern.
The National Weather Service uses a block of 30 years 1981-2010 to calculate the average snowfall for any given location. So including our blockbuster winter of 2009-2010, a bunch of low snow winters leading up calculates to an average of 20.1 inches each season at BWI. If we include all the years on record since 1883, then the average is a little higher at 21.8”. That long-term average is the one I prefer to show since it smooths out the extremes, and some believe we are ending our snow drought. Either way, since 2010, when we had our top season of 77 inches, only the last two of five years this decade were above average. This begs the question:
Can Baltimore have above normal snow three years in a row?
Check out the snow charts per decade in the slider below. After sorting through each year, I was able to determine that since 1883, there was a cluster of three or more years in a row with above normal snowfall:
- 7 occasions
- 19% of the record keeping
- Just under twice a decade
- We’ve had four complete decades without a cluster like this.
We are overdue! Support is here if you have Faith-in-the-Flakes*
The last time this occurred was 1965 to 1968, 47 years ago. There were actually two clusters in that decade. So when those under 40 hear their parents say they walked through feet of snow (up hill, both ways) when they were in school… I would believe ‘most’ of their stories.
Consider the rough winters of the late 70s. Superstorm ’93. Even the top three snow winters of 1996, 2003, and 2010. We have had quite a bit of big winters and large storms. In fact I’ve tracked the pattern of big storms every 3 to 4 years since the 1980s. But we have not been able to hold that cold and snow pattern for more than two winters in a row.
If you subscribe to the law of averages, then we are due. I do not want to get into any debate about climate change, because there is a lot of variability and that lowest snow decade of the 1950s scattered in the data. But this is hope if you want it.
I’ve broken down the above snow winter clusters below this slider.