There’s been plenty of moisture this winter but a lack of cold air has resulted in a “snow drought” throughout the Northeast.
Winter is more than halfway over and many large cities have yet to see their first snow. New York has gone 300 days without substantial snowfall accumulation. Philadelphia, which usually has its first measurable snow in mid-December, is nearing its latest snow date to record – Feb. 3, 1995.
“Aside from the unusually cold spell in mid-December, there has not been an episode of persistent cold air,” said Andrew Ellis, a hydroclimate scientist at Virginia Tech.
The polar jet stream, which reflects the southern extent of polar air, has consistently remained far across the far northern United States and Canada.
While the term, “snow drought” is not an often-used term, Ellis said the lack of snowfall through two-thirds of meteorological winter (December-February) certainly qualifies for its use. Drought is not typically differentiated by precipitation type.
Ellis said global warming isn’t necessarily to blame for the lack of snow.
“In this region [the Northeast], warming has generally had a more profound effect on melting snow that is on the ground than causing precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow.”
Looking ahead to February and March, Ellis reviewed models and said they do not suggest much of a pattern change. He expects it to be warmer than normal in the eastern United States with a very slight lean toward wetter than normal conditions.
“While the news is not great for snow lovers, there is always hope that the atmosphere will briefly align to produce a jackpot snow,” said Ellis.
Ellis teaches meteorology and climate science in the College of Natural Resources & Environment at Virginia Tech. His research areas focus on snowfall variability, on understanding and monitoring the occurrence of drought and assessing the sustainability of freshwater resources in arid and semi arid climates.