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Record Snow Depth (for an official site) Measured in Japan

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:38 PM GMT on February 21, 2013

An amazing 515 cm (202.8” or almost 17’) level snow depth was measured at Sukayu Onsen, Aomori on Honshu Island in Japan on February 21st, the deepest snow measured at an official weather site in Japan records. However, much deeper snow has accumulated at uninhabited sites in the Japanese Alps.



This snow depth map from February 21 at 13:00 local time displays the 515 cm figure for Sukayu Onsen. The climate zone is named northern Tohoku by JMA. Map of northern Honshu Island, JMA.





Winter and fall images of Sukayu Onsen where the record depth of 515 cm (203”) was just measured. The resort is one of Japan’s most popular hot springs. Top photo taken last December by Nogiuchi and bottom photo from Japanese tourism web site.

Sukayu Onsen is a hot spring resort south of the town of Aomori in Aomori Prefecture, which is the northernmost province of Honshu Island. The onsen (hot spring) is known as the snowiest inhabited site in Japan and rests at an elevation of 890 meters (2,900’) on the slopes of Mt. Kushigamine (in the Hakkoda Mountain complex). The peak rises to a height of 1,585 m (5,230’). Snowfall records began here in 1977 and the average annual snowfall for the period of record 1981-2010 is an amazing 1,764 cm (694.5”). This site is an officially recognized weather station by the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA). Thus the average annual snowfall measurement of 1,764 cm (694.5”) makes it the snowiest site in the world for which climate data is available. Even the famous Paradise Ranger Station located at 5,500’ on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, Washington does not equal this (Paradise R.S. average seasonal snowfall is variously reported at 640-680”).



Climatic chart for Sukayu Onsen. Wikipedia.

Prior to yesterday, the deepest snow depth at an official site in Japan was 501 cm (197.2”) also measured at Sukayu Onsen in March 2005. However, since the location is at a relatively low altitude the snow cover goes through many melt cycles during an average winter so the depth of snow never approaches the record depth for Paradise Ranger Station which is 367” (932 cm) measured on March 10, 1956. The North American record snow depth was an amazing 451”/37.5’(1,145 cm) recorded at Tamarack, California (located at 7,000’ near the Bear Valley Ski Resort) in March 1911.

There are also places in Japan that regularly see much deeper snow than Sukayu Onsen. These locations are located in the Japanese Alps several hundred miles south of Aomori Prefecture. On February 14, 1927 a world-record snow depth of 1,182 cm (465.4” or 38.8’) was measured at a site located at about 1,200 m (4,000’) on the slopes of Mt. Ibuki in Shiga Prefecture.



As can be seen from this screen shot of today’s snow depths reported from various Japanese ski resorts, snow depths above 500 cm (200”) are fairly common. However, these figures are not officially recognized by JMA (the Japanese Meteorological Agency). Chart from snowjapan.com

The reason the snowfall is so great in the Japanese Alps and other mountain ranges of Honshu Island is because Siberian air blows over the Sea of Japan (which never freezes) and the moisture from the sea is orographically lifted by the mountains creating tremendous snowfalls along the northern and western slopes and shoreline. A ‘lake effect ’snow pattern, so to speak, but on a sea-like scale.

It is estimated that the average seasonal snowfall at the snowiest locations in the Japanese Alps amount to as much as 3,800 cm (1,500”) around the 1,200-1,800 m (4,000-6,000’) level. The snow accumulates so deep here that it is a tourist attraction and a highway that bisects the mountains and is kept plowed year around. A portion of the highway is known as the Yuki-no-Otani Snow Canyon.



It is obvious in this extraordinary photograph that snow depths in Japan regularly exceed the record 515 cm recently measured at Sukayu Onsen. The photo was taken in the famous Yuki-no-Otani Snow Canyon that bisects the Japanese Alps. Photographer not identified, from buzzhunt.com.

For more on world record snow depths see my blog of February 3, 2012.

KUDOS: Thanks to Nick Wiltgen at TWC for bringing this to my attention.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Snow Extreme Weather 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.

Reader Comments

As regard Europe you should see this link, in the 2008/9 winter in the Sella Nevea resort in Italy, the snow depth reached almost 10 meters (the slovenian side has an official record of 880cm).

http://www.sellanevea.net/SellaNevea/GalleriaFoto. html

best regards
Sergio Monai
11.53 meters (454") of snowpack was reportedly measured at Tamarack, CA on 3/10/1911. Some dispute this number. Any thoughts?
Quoting Snowfire:
11.53 meters (454") of snowpack was reportedly measured at Tamarack, CA on 3/10/1911. Some dispute this number. Any thoughts?


Hi Snowfire,

I know what you mean about suspicions concerning the Tamarack figure. In general, a rule of thumb for western U.S. high mountain snow depth is that the maximum depth will only be one-third of the total seasonal snowfall. So hypothetically Tamarack's 765" season total should not have led to a maximum depth greater than about 255".

However, there are some other salient factors. That year (1911) saw a still-standing monthly record of 390" in January alone at Tamarack. Apparently February only saw 13" but then 75" fell in early March. Also, I just saw an interesting article that claims that the snow data for Tamarack was not taken in the valley location at 6,950' elevation but rather a few miles northeast in Alpine County at a 8,064' elevation. This would have made a big difference snow melt-wise.

In addition, if we look at the data for Donner Summit (about 50 miles north of Tamarack) we see that the winter of 1910-1911 had the greatest ratio of total accumulation to maximum snow depth on record: 50%. And Donner Summit is at 7,100'. So if that ratio were applied to Tamarack we could have expected a depth of 382" PLUS an extra 1,000' altitude that may have contributed to even less melt or compacting and then the 451" (or 454") figure starts to look more believable. A thorough analysis of what happened in February and March 1911 (looking at temperatures and snowfall in the region) would be the only way to reach a fair conclusion on the subject.

Wow..
Thats alot of snow in those figures you are kicking around..
Glad I'm in (soggy right now) Florida.. :)
Quoting pcola57:
Wow..
Thats alot of snow in those figures you are kicking around..
Glad I'm in (soggy right now) Florida.. :)


I'm a bit surprised that nobody has commented on the most significant fact in my blog: the average annual snowfall of 1764 cm (694.5") at Sukayu Onsen. This is a new world record for snowiest site on the planet with an official (JMA certified) 30-year POR (1981-2010) surpassing any location in North America (like Paradise R.S. in Washington) or anywhere else in the world.
Hi,
Thank you for covering snow records in my country, which I think is underestimated in spite of the fact that we have detailed and abundant observation data trough the ages. This might be simply because all the data are documented in Japanese.

Now I try to introduce you some of the snowiest places (cities and towns) in Japan.
Hope you like them.

1; Sapporo city, prefecture of Hokkaido (population 1,9 million, elevation of the observatory 17m)
The snowiest city with a population over one million. I think you all know about this city.
Annual Average Snowfall 597 cm (1981-2010), annual snowfall record 680 cm (1996), monthly snowfall record 273 cm (1981/01), snow depth record 169 cm (1939/ 2/13)

2; Aomori city, prefecture of Aomori (population 300 thousands, elevation of the observatory 3m)
The snowiest city with a population over 300 thousands as well as the snowiest prefectural capital in Japan.
Annual Average Snowfall 669 cm (1981-2010), annual snowfall record 1263 cm (1986), monthly snowfall record 527 cm (1977/01), snow depth record 209 cm (1945/ 2/21)

3; Tokamachi city, prefecture of Niigata (population 50 thousands, elevation of the observatory 170m)
The snowiest city with a population over 50 thousands. The city is located in the heart of "snow country" as we call it.
Annual Average Snowfall 1169 cm (1981-2010), annual snowfall record 2159 cm (1987), monthly snowfall record 660 cm (1987/01), snow depth record 391 cm (1981/ 1/23) __JMA records began in 1980

4; Tsunan town, prefecture of Niigata (population 10 thousands, elevation of the observatory 452m)
The snowiest town with a population over 10 thousands. A town is a type of local administrative unit in Japan which is normally smaller than a city.
Annual Average Snowfall 1349 cm (1989-2010), annual snowfall record 2029 cm (2006), monthly snowfall record 673 cm (2005/12), snow depth record 416 cm (2006/ 2/5) __JMA records began in 1989

5 ;Myoko-kogen town, prefecture of Niigata (population 7 thousands, No JMA official observatory)
One of the snowiest town at the level of the town center. Snowfall is measured by the prefecture and data from 1995 are available on http://www.chiiki.pref.niigata.jp/yuki/ (in Japanese).
Annual Average Snowfall 1507 cm (1995-2012), annual snowfall record 2324 cm (2012), monthly snowfall record 1024 cm (2012/01), snow depth record 390 cm (2012/ 2/3)

6; Matsunoyama town, prefecture of Niigata (population 3 thousands, No JMA official observatory)
A town which is allegedly snowier than Myoko-kogen town. Snowfall is measured by the prefecture but the lack of some data makes the comparison difficult. In January 2011, monthly snowfall reached 1160 cm.

7; Sukayu; a resort surrounded by the mountains, prefecture of Aomori
Here comes the famous Sukayu. Although it has an official JMA meteorological observatory, Sukayu is not a town but a "onsen (hot spring)" resort with hotels and "ryokan". I don't think there are private residences and schools.
Annual Average Snowfall 1764 cm (1981-2000), annual snowfall record 2376 cm (1996), monthly snowfall record 561 cm (1988/02), snow depth record 515 cm (2013/ 2/21) __JMA records began in 1979

There are so many cities, towns and villages, not to mention about hot spring resorts or ski resorts in our country whose annual average snowfall exceeds 1000 cm. But to find out the snowiest places is quite hard because there are many places without sufficient observational data

I finish this posting by introducing some records of annual snowfall documented by the Japan national railway during the season 1944-1945, one of the snowiest winter in our history.
The Japan national railway was conducting an observation at each station back then, where snow is abundant.
These figures are not officially recognized but very revealing.

"Annual snowfall for the season 1944-1945"
Oshirakawa Station (Uonuma, pref. of Niigata) 3555 cm
Echigo-yuzawa Station (Yuzawa, pref. of Niigata) 3280 cm
Irihirose Station (Uonuma, pref. of Niigata) 3126 cm
Sekiyama Station (Myoko, pref. of Niigata) 3090 cm
Tsuchitaru Station (Yuzawa, pref. of Niigata) 3010 cm

(This is the english version of what I have written in Infoclimat.fr (in French))

Ciao
Yusuke
Thank you Yusuke for this excellent information!

Quoting yusuke2006:
Hi,
Thank you for covering snow records in my country, which I think is underestimated in spite of the fact that we have detailed and abundant observation data trough the ages. This might be simply because all the data are documented in Japanese.

Now I try to introduce you some of the snowiest places (cities and towns) in Japan.
Hope you like them.

1; Sapporo city, prefecture of Hokkaido (population 1,9 million, elevation of the observatory 17m)
The snowiest city with a population over one million. I think you all know about this city.
Annual Average Snowfall 597 cm (1981-2010), annual snowfall record 680 cm (1996), monthly snowfall record 273 cm (1981/01), snow depth record 169 cm (1939/ 2/13)

2; Aomori city, prefecture of Aomori (population 300 thousands, elevation of the observatory 3m)
The snowiest city with a population over 300 thousands as well as the snowiest prefectural capital in Japan.
Annual Average Snowfall 669 cm (1981-2010), annual snowfall record 1263 cm (1986), monthly snowfall record 527 cm (1977/01), snow depth record 209 cm (1945/ 2/21)

3; Tokamachi city, prefecture of Niigata (population 50 thousands, elevation of the observatory 170m)
The snowiest city with a population over 50 thousands. The city is located in the heart of "snow country" as we call it.
Annual Average Snowfall 1169 cm (1981-2010), annual snowfall record 2159 cm (1987), monthly snowfall record 660 cm (1987/01), snow depth record 391 cm (1981/ 1/23) __JMA records began in 1980

4; Tsunan town, prefecture of Niigata (population 10 thousands, elevation of the observatory 452m)
The snowiest town with a population over 10 thousands. A town is a type of local administrative unit in Japan which is normally smaller than a city.
Annual Average Snowfall 1349 cm (1989-2010), annual snowfall record 2029 cm (2006), monthly snowfall record 673 cm (2005/12), snow depth record 416 cm (2006/ 2/5) __JMA records began in 1989

5 ;Myoko-kogen town, prefecture of Niigata (population 7 thousands, No JMA official observatory)
One of the snowiest town at the level of the town center. Snowfall is measured by the prefecture and data from 1995 are available on http://www.chiiki.pref.niigata.jp/yuki/ (in Japanese).
Annual Average Snowfall 1507 cm (1995-2012), annual snowfall record 2324 cm (2012), monthly snowfall record 1024 cm (2012/01), snow depth record 390 cm (2012/ 2/3)

6; Matsunoyama town, prefecture of Niigata (population 3 thousands, No JMA official observatory)
A town which is allegedly snowier than Myoko-kogen town. Snowfall is measured by the prefecture but the lack of some data makes the comparison difficult. In January 2011, monthly snowfall reached 1160 cm.

7; Sukayu; a resort surrounded by the mountains, prefecture of Aomori
Here comes the famous Sukayu. Although it has an official JMA meteorological observatory, Sukayu is not a town but a "onsen (hot spring)" resort with hotels and "ryokan". I don't think there are private residences and schools.
Annual Average Snowfall 1764 cm (1981-2000), annual snowfall record 2376 cm (1996), monthly snowfall record 561 cm (1988/02), snow depth record 515 cm (2013/ 2/21) __JMA records began in 1979

There are so many cities, towns and villages, not to mention about hot spring resorts or ski resorts in our country whose annual average snowfall exceeds 1000 cm. But to find out the snowiest places is quite hard because there are many places without sufficient observational data

I finish this posting by introducing some records of annual snowfall documented by the Japan national railway during the season 1944-1945, one of the snowiest winter in our history.
The Japan national railway was conducting an observation at each station back then, where snow is abundant.
These figures are not officially recognized but very revealing.

"Annual snowfall for the season 1944-1945"
Oshirakawa Station (Uonuma, pref. of Niigata) 3555 cm
Echigo-yuzawa Station (Yuzawa, pref. of Niigata) 3280 cm
Irihirose Station (Uonuma, pref. of Niigata) 3126 cm
Sekiyama Station (Myoko, pref. of Niigata) 3090 cm
Tsuchitaru Station (Yuzawa, pref. of Niigata) 3010 cm

(This is the english version of what I have written in Infoclimat.fr (in French))

Ciao
Yusuke
Thank you Christopher,

I was reading your past posting about the snowfall records in 24 hours caused by the lake effect.
Now let me put down some vintage snowfall records in Japan, just for information:-)
These records are too old to be recognized officially though...

"snow fall in 24 hours"
Mount. Ibuki, pref. of Shiga 230cm (1927/2/14)
Sekiyama Station, pref. of Niigata 210cm (1946/1/17) (Japan National Railway record)
Nihongi Station, pref. of Niigata 190cm (1945/1/24) (Japan National Railway record)
Arai Station, pref. of Niigata 180cm (1945/1/24) (Japan National Railway record)

It's snowing again in the northern & north-western part of japan and now we have 523 cm at Sukayu.

Yusuke
some great webcams: http://view.aomori.isp.ntt-east.co.jp/spot/sightse eing/625.html

more here: http://view.aomori.isp.ntt-east.co.jp/
Quoting weatherhistorian:


I'm a bit surprised that nobody has commented on the most significant fact in my blog: the average annual snowfall of 1764 cm (694.5") at Sukayu Onsen. This is a new world record for snowiest site on the planet with an official (JMA certified) 30-year POR (1981-2010) surpassing any location in North America (like Paradise R.S. in Washington) or anywhere else in the world.
Alyeska ski resort in alaska advertises an average yearly snowfall of 775" at 2400'
currently they have a depth of 225". But there are much higher amounts accessible by a heli-ski company in the Chugach range, where elevations above 6000' have snowfall amounts in access of 1000" annually.
In general, a rule of thumb for western U.S. high mountain snow depth is that the maximum depth will only be one-third of the total seasonal snowfall.

What factor does volumetric water content play in the compactability of the snow? Was the rule of thumb derived from Rocky Mountain powder, which can run as low as 5% water by volume freshly fallen, or from good old "Sierra cement" (a skier's term) which typically runs 10-12%? In my experience, the lightest, fluffiest powder is dumped by relatively small, cold storm systems; larger storms tend to be warmer and to deposit heavier snow, and monster storms virtually never drop powder. If 390" fell in a month, it wasn't flurries that did that; there must have been some monster dumps

PS-I remember one Christmas in St. Louis when we had 8" of sleet in two separate sorms. That stuff was probably 50% water at least and had no compactability at all; at the temperatures it fell (12F first storm, 8F second storm), walking in it was like walking in dry sand. You left no distinct footprints.
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.
some amazing photos from Sukayu http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_af fairs/AJ201302260071
14. est
Quoting sergiomonai:
As regard Europe you should see this link, in the 2008/9 winter in the Sella Nevea resort in Italy, the snow depth reached almost 10 meters (the slovenian side has an official record of 880cm).

http://www.sellanevea.net/SellaNevea/GalleriaFoto. html

best regards
Sergio Monai

Hi,
The max snowdepth value recorded, in the official weather station, in that season was 645 cm (254 in), as you can see here: http://www.osmer.fvg.it/IT/CLIMATOLOGIA/Neve.php

In the Alps snowdepths exceeding 8 m (315 in) was recorded in winter 1998/99 in Switzerland, 1950/51 and 1971/72 in Italy and in 1944/45 in Austria