Another amazingly snowy winter for the U.S.

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:18 PM GMT on February 11, 2011

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As northeast Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas dig out from the two feet of snow dumped this winter's latest epic snowstorm, it's time to summarize how remarkable the snows of the past two winters have been. So far this winter, the Northeast U.S. has seen three Category 3 (major) or higher snow storms on the Northeast Snowfall Impact (NESIS) scale. This scale, which rates Northeast snowstorms by the area affected by the snowstorm, the amount of snow, and the number of people living in the path of the storm, runs from Category 1 (Notable) to Category 5 (Crippling.) This puts the winter of 2010 - 2011 in a tie for first place with the winters of 2009 - 2010 and 1960 - 1961 for most major Northeast snowstorms. All three of these winters had an extreme configuration of surface pressures over the Arctic and North Atlantic referred to as a negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and Arctic Oscillation (AO). In this situation, the band of winds that circles the North Pole weakens, allowing cold air to spill southwards into the mid-latitudes.

In the past twelve months, we've had six major Category 3 or stronger storms on the NESIS scale, by far the most major snowstorms in a 12-month period in the historical record. Going back to 1956, only one 12-month period had as many as four major snowstorms--during 1960 - 1961. New York City has seen three of its top-ten snowstorms and the two snowiest months in its 142-year history during the past 12 months--February 2010 (36.9") and January 2011 (36.0"). Philadelphia has seen four of its top-ten snowstorm in history the past two winters. The Midwest has not been left out of the action this year, either--the Groundhog's Day blizzard nailed Chicago with its 3rd biggest snowstorm on record. According to the National Climatic Data Center, December 2010 saw the 7th greatest U.S. snow extent for the month in the 45-year record, and January 2011 the 5th most. December 2009 had the greatest snow extent for the month in the 45-year record, January 2010 the 6th most, and February 2010 the 3rd most. Clearly, the snows of the past two winters in the U.S. have been truly extraordinary.


Figure 1. The six major Category 3 Northeast snowstorms of the past twelve months. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

A cold January in the U.S.
January 2011 was the coldest January in the contiguous U.S. since 1994, according to the National Climatic Data Center, and ranked as the 37th coldest January in the 117-year record. Despite the heavy snows in the Northeast U.S., January was the 9th driest January since 1895. This was largely due to the fact that the Desert Southwest was very dry, with New Mexico recording its driest January, and Arizona and Nevada their second driest.

A cold and record snowy winter (yet again!) in the U.S. does not prove or disprove the existence of climate change or global warming, as we must instead focus on global temperatures averaged over decades. Globally, January 2011 was the 11th warmest since 1880, but tied for the second coolest January of the past decade, according to NASA. NOAA has not yet released their stats for January. The cool-down in global temperatures since November 2010, which was the warmest November in the historical record, is largely due to the temporary cooling effect of the strong La Niña event occurring in the Eastern Pacific. This event has cooled a large portion of the surface waters in the Pacific, leading to a cooler global temperature.

Some posts of interest I've done on snow and climate change over the past year:

Hot Arctic-Cold Continents Pattern is back (December 2010)
The future of intense winter storms (March 2010)
Heavy snowfall in a warming world (February 2010)

Have a great weekend, everyone, and enjoy the coming warm-up, those of you in the eastern 2/3 of the country!

Jeff Masters

Snow and icicle sun (emilinetdd)
Snow and icicle sun
Cardinal City (dypepper)
Another exciting day for me, shooting the Cardinals in the Snow!
Cardinal City

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Quoting weatherboy1992:
No. I'm a 19 year old geek. With all the craziness here, that's the only personal information I will ever give.

Are you questioning my sanity? :P
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Afternoon KoritheMan!
Hi there!
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Look who's here!.How are you?.
Good afternoon! I'm fine. You?
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It's february,and it feels like mid-March outside.a sign of a warm sprin/hot summer to come?.maybe...
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Quoting jwh250:
Add 22 to that #


LOL.
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Quoting atmoaggie:
Please show us an example of extrapolating an earth science parameter into the future based on a series of observations that has actually worked to a significant result, near-term or long-term.

I ask as that is what the prognostications are all about.

The dynamical modeling simply isn't there, yet, so a great analogue is literally a hurricane XTRP, but on a different time scale.
(Obviously not talking about the forecast movements of a TC for the next 10 minutes, but for the next 3 days, e.g.)
Is anyone capable of providing an example?
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Quoting KoritheMan:
Out of curiosity, weatherboy, are you really 18 as the numbers in your name might suggest?


Afternoon KoritheMan!
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Quoting BahaHurican:
[shudders] Too cold, too cold! lol It's beautiful in the summer....

Most of what melts in N Dakota is going to end up in the Missouri, right? When u consider that Missouri and Arkansas are likely to have their own snowmelt problems, the southern tier states on the Mississippi banks may have to be on their ps and qs... At your end the Red River north to the Assiniboine is a potential flood plain, right? Sure hope u guys don't get any more "major snow" followed by rapid warm-up....
Yup. Pretty much the easter 1/3 of ND and the NW part of MN are in the Red's drainage basin.
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Quoting KoritheMan:
Out of curiosity, weatherboy, are you really 18 as the numbers in your name might suggest?
Look who's here!.How are you?.
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Quoting misanthrope:


LOL. What, you talking about that Junior Scientist badge you ordered from the back of a comic book? Face it dude, you're a grad school drop out with a huge chip on his shoulder.

Real scientists have advanced degrees, do research, write papers and write grants. Far as I can tell, you've done none of the above. .And no, that poem you submitted to the company newsletter doesn't count as being published. Real scientist have a familiarity with the literature in their field of specialization. Something you quite obviously have not. Operationally administering computer a program a scientist does not make you.

I'll tell you what aggie, I've been very fortunate to know and work with a lot of good scientists over the years and I can say with confidence that you are certainly a lot of things but scientist is not amongst them. Not even close.


What I do, mostly, is called applied science. Look it up.

I get this feeling that you are threatened by me, somehow. Sorry about that...nothing I can do about it, though.
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1236. bappit
Recent trends in the observations and models do not offer many hints on which outcome is more likely. Also, model skill is historically at a minimum during the Northern Hemisphere spring (the "spring barrier").

So the ENSO is more chaotic in the northern hemisphere spring.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 6147
Right.... out again for a while. Hope the blog stays sane while I'm gone.... have fun!
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22687
1234. bappit
Quoting Skyepony:
babbit~ now it's much more fun to guess at ENSO months ahead of what the various agencies do.

Last Thursday the ENSO monthly diagnostics discussion was out..

Synopsis: ENSO-Neutral or La Nina conditions are equally likely during May-June 2011

Klaus Wolter says:

Stay tuned for the next update (by March 5th) to see where the MEI will be heading next. While La Nina conditions are guaranteed well into 2011, it remains to be seen whether it can rally once more to cross the -2 sigma barrier, and/or whether it will indeed last into 2012, as discussed six months ago on this page. I believe the odds for a two-year event remain well above 50%, made even more likely by the continued unabated strength in various ENSO indices.

Who is Klaus Wolter? He's a research associate at CIRES that sounds like a wishcaster, sort of, though he acknowledges he has a different viewpoint from the ENSO advisory.

Some interesting comments from the ENSO advisory:

Collectively, these oceanic and atmospheric anomalies reflect an ongoing, mature La Nina that has begun to weaken.

and

Recent trends in the observations and models do not offer many hints on which outcome is more likely. Also, model skill is historically at a minimum during the Northern Hemisphere spring (the "spring barrier").
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 6147
Out of curiosity, weatherboy, are you really 18 as the numbers in your name might suggest?
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
iam outside having a BBQ got some sirlion strip tenderlion frying up on the grill


Be right up:)
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1230. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting EYEStoSEA:
I have a new profile pic...:) rushing the season..
iam outside having a BBQ got some sirlion strip tenderlion frying up on the grill
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55665
Quoting TaylorSelseth:


heh, well before these last few heat waves we had ginormous snow piles on the curbs as tall as a man! All the snow is why we are worried about flooding. In '09 it was because we had a week in March with 60sF temps and all the snow melted uber-fast. Now we are worried about too much snow-melt, like in '97.
[shudders] Too cold, too cold! lol It's beautiful in the summer....

Most of what melts in N Dakota is going to end up in the Missouri, right? When u consider that Missouri and Arkansas are likely to have their own snowmelt problems, the southern tier states on the Mississippi banks may have to be on their ps and qs... At your end the Red River north to the Assiniboine is a potential flood plain, right? Sure hope u guys don't get any more "major snow" followed by rapid warm-up....
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22687
Quoting TaylorSelseth:


LOL, we still have some crazy spring weather to get through before the 'canes come. :-)


LOL...I know...tornado season in Ms coming soon...I try to forget about that ;]
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1227. hcubed
Quoting misanthrope:


LOL. What, you talking about that Junior Scientist badge you ordered from the back of a comic book? Face it dude, you're a grad school drop out with a huge chip on his shoulder.

Real scientists have advanced degrees, do research, write papers and write grants. Far as I can tell, you've done none of the above. .And no, that poem you submitted to the company newsletter doesn't count as being published. Real scientist have a familiarity with the literature in their field of specialization. Something you quite obviously have not. Operationally administering computer a program a scientist does not make you.

I'll tell you what aggie, I've been very fortunate to know and work with a lot of good scientists over the years and I can say with confidence that you are certainly a lot of things but scientist is not amongst them. Not even close.




Yeah, and real scientists can take data, turn it upside down and make it fit their theory. And the really good scientists can get their peers go along with it.
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Quoting EYEStoSEA:
I have a new profile pic...:) rushing the season..


LOL, we still have some crazy spring weather to get through before the 'canes come. :-)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I have a new profile pic...:) rushing the season..
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting weatherboy1992:
Only mystery about Fargo is why they called the movie that when it all happened in Minnesota!
In Brainard, to be specific. And yes, we actually DO sound like that!
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Pity. I'd like to see what it's like there in the winter...

Naughty, naughty, Grothar.... lol

I actually DO have a few pics of Fargo [the train station area] from the trip I mentioned earlier in the blog... maybe I can share them with Taylor...

lol


heh, well before these last few heat waves we had ginormous snow piles on the curbs as tall as a man! All the snow is why we are worried about flooding. In '09 it was because we had a week in March with 60sF temps and all the snow melted uber-fast. Now we are worried about too much snow-melt, like in '97.
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Quoting TaylorSelseth:
unfortunately, no. I don't have a digital camera or a camera on my cell-phone.
Pity. I'd like to see what it's like there in the winter...

Quoting Grothar:


I have one Baha. (Only kidding Taylor, Fargo is a nice place. Just couldn't resist)

Naughty, naughty, Grothar.... lol

I actually DO have a few pics of Fargo [the train station area] from the trip I mentioned earlier in the blog... maybe I can share them with Taylor...

lol
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22687
1220. Grothar
Quoting BahaHurican:
Taylor, do u have pics of Fargo on there?


I have one Baha. (Only kidding Taylor, Fargo is a nice place. Just couldn't resist)

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Quoting BahaHurican:
Taylor, do u have pics of Fargo on there?
unfortunately, no. I don't have a digital camera or a camera on my cell-phone.
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Quoting TaylorSelseth:
From Fargo? Yep
Taylor, do u have pics of Fargo on there?
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22687
Thanks 4 the tpw imagery of the Indian Ocean, jwh...

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22687
1216. bappit
Quoting Grothar:
Interesting video.



That makes me hungry.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 6147
Quoting weatherboy1992:


I hope it weakens before landfall. Flooding from orographic enhanced rains worries me.
I hope so, too. Those folks DO NOT need this thing hitting them!
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Quoting clamshell:
Are you the same Taylor Selseth on Facebook and MySpace?


From Fargo? Yep
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1209. Grothar
Interesting video.


Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Are you the same Taylor Selseth on Facebook and MySpace?


Quoting TaylorSelseth:
The stuff in oil is long-chain hydrocarbons are can be traced back to biological materia via isotopic analysis, material that has been cycled though photosynthesizing organisms have higher amounts of Carbon-13 relative to Carbon-14 than non-biological hydrocarbons like those found in space.

Oh and why are oil deposits associated with coming from rocks deposited in highly productive ancient shallow seas if it is not from dead algae? You know all that oil in the Arctic? that is from the burst of activity up there that helped to draw down CO2 levels at the end of the Eocene.

And oil is destroyed by high temperatures deep in the earth, a lot of natural gas was oil that was broken up into simpler hydrocarbons by the earth's heat.

Please read up on how oil is actually formed before you pull the "I'm like Galileo!" martyrdom shtick.
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Quoting weatherboy1992:
Is there a realistic chance that Bingiza will stay off Madagascar's east coast and just drop to the south?
More likely it will fade, IMO. I think the steering not going to change enough for us to see it parallel the coast...

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22687
1203. Skyepony (Mod)
babbit~ now it's much more fun to guess at ENSO months ahead of what the various agencies do.

Last Thursday the ENSO monthly diagnostics discussion was out..

Synopsis: ENSO-Neutral or La Niña conditions are equally likely during May-June 2011
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 209 Comments: 39100
1201. bappit
Quoting TaylorSelseth:
I'd love to heard all the latest stuff about La Nina, SOI bursts, changes in the AO and other oscillations, etc. And about the crazy warm weatrher up here.

If you want to know about ENSO go to these places.

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/enso/

http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao/elnino/nino-home.htm l


http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_mo nitoring/lanina



http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/


http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/glossary/elnino/eln ino.shtml

All of these links come from http://weather.cod.edu/sirvatka/1115/ENSO.pdf.
Member Since: May 18, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 6147
1200. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)


not sure about flooding areas but the temps show a good melting in progress in a few days if temps remain iam sure more info will come in as to flooding areas
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55665

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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