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Northeast U.S. digs out from yet another history-making snowstorm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 4:53 PM GMT on December 28, 2010

The remarkable Post-Christmas blizzard of 2010 has ended for the United States, as the storm has trekked northeastward into Canada. The blizzard dropped epic amounts of snow during its rampage up the U.S. Northeast coast Sunday and Monday, with an incredible 32" falling in Rahway, New Jersey, about 15 miles southwest of New York City. The highest populated areas of New Jersey received over two feet of snow, including the Newark Airport, which received 24.1". Snowfall amounts were slightly lower across New York City. The blizzard of 2010 dumped 20.0" inches on New York City's Central Park, making it the 6th largest snowstorm for the city in recorded history, and the second top-ten snowstorm this year.

Figure 1. Scene from Brooklyn, New York after the Post-Christmas blizzard of 2010. Image credit: Wunderphotographer AK2NY.

Remarkably, New York City has had four of its top-ten snowfalls in the past decade (highlighted in the list below.) According to the National Weather Service, the top ten snowstorms on record for New York City's Central Park since 1869 should now read:

1) 26.9" Feb 11-12, 2006
2) 26.4" Dec 26-27, 1947
3) 21.0" Mar 12-14, 1888
4) 20.8" Feb 25-26, 2010
5) 20.2" Jan 7-8, 1996
6) 20.0" Dec 26-27, 2010
7) 19.8" Feb 16-17, 2003
8) 18.1" Mar 7-8, 1941
9) 17.7" Feb 5-7, 1978
10) 17.6" Feb 11-12, 1983

Newark's 24.2" was one of that city's top-ten snowstorms of all-time, and the 20.1" that fell on Atlantic City, NJ was the city's second largest snowfall in history. Atlantic City's three biggest snowstorms have all occurred in the past ten years:

1) 21.6" Feb 15-18, 2003
2) 20.1" Dec 26-27, 2010
3) 18.2" Feb 5-6, 2010

Philadelphia, PA picked up 12.4", the city's fourth one-foot plus snowstorm in just over a year--a remarkable string of storms, considering the city has had just 24 such snowfalls in history, since 1884. According to phillyweather.net, the latest snowstorm brought Philadelphia's 2010 snowfall for the calendar year to 67.3", breaking the mark for snowiest year ever (previous record: 57.0" in 1978.)

The 18.2" that fell at Boston's Logan International Airport made the storm Boston's 8th biggest in history:

1) 27.6" Feb 17-18, 2003
2) 27.1" Feb 6-7, 1978
3) 26.3" Feb 24-28, 1969
4) 25.4" Apr 1, 1997
5) 19.8" Mar 3-5, 1960
6) 19.4" Feb 16-17, 1958
7) 18.7" Feb 8-10, 1994
8) 18.2" Dec 26-27, 2010
8) 18.2" Jan 7-8, 1996
10) 17.3" Feb 5-7, 1920

Some selected city snowfall amounts for the December 26-27, 2010 storm:

Rahway, NJ 32.0"
Great Kills, NY 29.0"
Piermont, NH 25.0"
Newark, NJ 24.2"
Landgrove, VT 21.0"
Atlantic City, NJ 20.1"
NYC Central Park, NY 20.0"
Boston, MA 18.2"
Ocean City, MD 13.5"
Philadelphia, PA 12.4"
East Providence, RI 10.0"
Danbury, CT 11.1"
Augusta, ME 15.0"
Dover, DE 9.0"
Asheville, NC 9.0"
Bridgeport, CT 8.0"
Huntsville, AL 6.0"
Chattanooga, TN 3.0"

There's a great 40-second time-lapse video of 32 inches of snow accumulating at Belmar, NJ.

Figure 2. The annual average number of snowstorms with a 6 inch (15.2 cm) or greater accumulation, from the years 1901 - 2001. A value of 0.1 means an average of one 6+ inch snowstorm every ten years. Image credit: Changnon, S.A., D. Changnon, and T.R. Karl, 2006, Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States, J. Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 45, 8, pp. 1141-1155, DOI: 10.1175/JAM2395.1.

An unusual number of top-ten snowstorms for the Northeast in recent years
The Northeast has seen an inordinate number of top-ten snowstorms in the past ten years, raising the question of whether this is due to random chance or a change in the climate. A study by Houston and Changnon (2009) on the top ten heaviest snows on record for each of 121 major U.S. cities showed no upward or downward trend in these very heaviest snowstorms during the period 1948 - 2001. It would be interesting to see if they repeated their study using data from the past decade if the answer would change. As I stated in my blog post, The United States of Snow in February, bigger snowstorms are not an indication that global warming is not occurring. The old adage, "it's too cold to snow", has some truth to it, and there is research supporting the idea that the average climate in the U.S. is colder than optimal to support the heaviest snowstorms. For example, Changnon et al. (2006) found that for the contiguous U.S. between 1900 - 2001, 61% - 80% of all heavy snowstorms of 6+ inches occurred during winters with above normal temperatures. The authors also found that 61% - 85% of all heavy snowstorms of 6+ inches occurred during winters that were wetter than average. The authors conclude, "a future with wetter and warmer winters, which is one outcome expected (National Assessment Synthesis Team 2001), will bring more heavy snowstorms of 6+ inches than in 1901 - 2000." The authors found that over the U.S. as a whole, there had been a slight but significant increase in heavy snowstorms of 6+ inches than in 1901 - 2000. If the climate continues to warm, we should expect an increase in heavy snow events for a few decades, until the climate grows so warm that we pass the point where winter temperatures are at the optimum for heavy snow events.

I've done some other 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)

Jeff Masters
Holly Jolly Christmas
Holly Jolly Christmas
Our first snow of the season.

Winter Weather

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.