Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
By: Christopher C. Burt , 6:16 PM GMT on November 03, 2010
October is normally the month that the first measurable snowfalls of the winter season fall in the Northern Plains, Rocky Mountains, Cascades of the Pacific Northwest (above about 4000 feet), and the Sierra Nevada of California (above about 6000 feet). On occasion, snow also falls in the Northeast and Appalachians at higher elevations.
Figure 1. A record early snowfall blanketed much of Nebraska on Oct. 9-10, 2009 with North Platte receiving 13.8". (photo credit: Mike Hollingshead/extremeinstability.com)
On some occasions, October snow may fall at sea level in New England, and has been reported in the past as far south as the tidewaters of Virginia, and Oklahoma in the Central Plains. Below are a list of the earliest dates of measurable snowfall at selected sites in the U.S.A. since the beginning of their official records, and a list of some all-time snow records that were set in October and still stand today:
As of Nov. 1, 2010 the only cities from the list above that have already recorded measurable snowfall so far this season are Great Falls, MT (on Sept. 17), Salt Lake city, UT (on Oct. 25), and Bismarck, ND (on Oct. 26). Please note that I would be happy to research the first measurable snowfalls on record for any city you might be interested in. However, the caveat is that your requests are for first order NWS sites. Please feel free to email me your requests.
International Early-season Snowfall Records
European and all other international snowfall records aside from the USA and Canada are mostly non-existent. This is because they only consider melted precipitation for their databases. Nonetheless, British weather historian Paul Simons informs me that London's earliest measured snowfall was on Oct. 7, 1829 when a "widespread" snowstorm struck Southeast England with a "considerable amount" of accumulation.
Some Historic Early Season Snowstorms
New England's Snow Hurricane of Oct. 9, 1804
Perhaps the most extraordinary early-season snowstorm in New England history occurred on Oct. 9, 1804 when a hurricane roared ashore on Long Island, New York and then encountered an arctic air mass over southeastern Canada. The winds of the hurricane caused extensive structural damage from New York to Massachusetts (where the steeple of North Church in Boston was blown down). The rain turned to snow as far south as the Connecticut River Valley in Connecticut, where low elevation towns from here to the Canadian border received 4-6" of snow, and the higher terrain of Vermont up to three feet of accumulation. In Vermont, drifts buried fences and blocked roads. The Catskills of New York reported 12-18"; the Berkshires of Massachusetts received 24-30". Even coastal New Haven reported some snow (and 3.66" of rain). Reference: "Early American Winters: 1604-1820", by David M. Ludlum, American Meteorological Society, 1966, and "Early American Hurricanes, 1492-1870", by the same author
Buffalo, New York Oct. 12-13, 2006
The Great Lakes snow belts often report their heaviest snowstorms early in the winter season when the lakes are still warm and the first arctic outbreaks blow in from Canada. However, nothing can compare to the amazing snow squall that hit a narrow area over Buffalo, New York on Oct. 12-13, 2006. An official 22.6" of snow fell at the Buffalo Airport NWS station (higher amounts of 24" fell at Depew and Alden).
The heaviest previous snowfall during the first half of October had been just 1.6" on Oct. 10, 1906. Lake Erie's water temperature was 62°F (almost warm enough to swim in!) The air became just cold enough for rain showers to turn to snow at 3pm on Oct. 12, and by that night, cloud tops reached 25-30,000' (exceptionally high for lake-effect storms), and lightning and thunder was observed all night. For a detailed analysis of this storm see http://www.erh.noaa.gov/buf/storm101206.html.
Denver, Colorado Sep. 3-4, 1961
September snowstorms are relatively common along the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies but normally occur during the waning days of the month. Not so during the famous Labor Day snowstorm of 1961, which buried Denver and the foothills under the heaviest early-season snowfall on record. An official 4.2" was measured on Sep. 3 at Stapleton Airport and up to 12" fell in the western foothills of the city. Denver's most intense September snowfall occurred Sept. 26-28, 1936 when 16.5" accumulated in the city.
Minnesota Oct.31-Nov.2, 1991
The famous Halloween blizzard of 1991 was not only Minneapolis and Duluth's heaviest, earliest snowstorm on record, but also their greatest single snowstorm for any month in their respective histories. Minneapolis received a storm total of 28.4" and Duluth 36.9".
Unlike most early-season snowfalls, this one was a true blizzard accompanied by high winds and followed by record low temperatures, with the -3°F in Minneapolis on Nov. 4th being their earliest below zero temperature on record. Coincidentally, while this "perfect blizzard" raged in the Midwest, the more famous "Perfect Storm" was raging over the North Atlantic and New England. For more details about the storm see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween_Blizzard
I am not aware of any scholarly research on the subject of first measurable snowfalls of the season in the United States. If I had spent months researching whether or not measurable snowfalls were occurring later or earlier over the period of record, then perhaps there would be some "conclusion" of note here. Sorry, that is not the case! I'm afraid this blog has nothing of such importance to relate, it is simply an early season notice to all you snow lovers out there. Living in Oakland, California for twenty years I still dream of the day that any measurable snow falls here!
Christopher C. Burt
Comments will take a few seconds to appear.