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Historic Snow for St. Louis, All-time record snow for Springfield, Illinois

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:09 PM GMT on March 25, 2013

Historic Snow for St. Louis, All-time record snow for Springfield, Illinois

A late season snowstorm has plastered the central portions of the U.S. resulting in an all-time snowfall record (in Springfield, Illinois with 18.5") and the heaviest snowfall in 31 years for St. Louis and its 7th greatest snowstorm on record where snowfall records began in 1883.

Heavy snow was also reported in the Kansas City area where up to 15” of snowfall was measured in some of the city’s suburbs. The Easter bunny appears frozen in shock along this Kansas City street on Sunday (March 24th). Photo by Fred Blocher for the Kansas City Star newspaper.

Springfield, Illinois picked up a storm total accumulation of 18.5” on March 24-25. The 17.0” that fell on the calendar day of March 24th was an all-time record for the city (as was the single-storm total). The previous 24-hour or calendar day record for Springfield was 15.0” on February 28, 1900 and its single-storm record was also set during the same event with 17.4” on February 27-28, 1900. The maximum ground depth from the current storm was reported as 16.0” at 7 a.m. this morning (March 25th). This is just shy of the all-time record for such which was 16.3” on January 11, 1918. Snowfall records for Springfield began in 1883.

Snow accumulation map for the 48-hour period 7 a.m. March 23 to 7 a.m. March 25 CST for the entire region impacted by the storm. Map from NWS-St. Louis office.

St. Louis has come in with a storm total of 12.7” for March 24-25 (its 7th greatest single-storm total on record) and a calendar day total of 12.4” on the 24th. These are not all-time records for March as has been widely reported. St. Louis’s greatest single snowstorm and 24-hour accumulation (for any month) was 20.4” on March 30-31, 1890. Official snowfall records for St. Louis began in 1883 (see reference at end of blog). Nevertheless, this latest storm was the greatest snow for the city since 13.9” fell during a terrific storm on January 30-31, 1982. The storm in 1982 featured five continuous hours of thunder snow at the NWS site in the city. Thunder snow was also reported during the recent storm late Sunday morning (March 24th), albeit for a much shorter duration.

Snowfall map for the storm of January 30-31, 1982 which dumped 13.9” of snow on St. Louis. This was the last time the city experienced an even greater snowfall than the recent one. Map from NWS-St. Louis office archives.

It is interesting to note how rare excessive snowfalls are for St. Louis. This was only the 11th time since 1883 (130 years of records) that a snowfall of a foot (12”) or more has been recorded (see table below).

These tables show the top ten snow events for St. Louis since 1891. They do not include the city’s all-time greatest snowfall of 20.4” that fell on March 30-31, 1890. I assume this is because the St. Louis NWS office considers only post-1891 data as official. That’s a bit odd since official records existed in St. Louis at that time. We don’t see New York City, for instance, claiming the snowfall from the Blizzard of 1888 as ‘unofficial’ just because it happened before 1891 when the U.S Weather Bureau was formed. Tables from the NWS-St. Louis office.

The reason St. Louis rarely experiences excessive snowfalls is because it lies outside the usual tracks of the low-pressure systems that bring heavy snow to the Midwest and Ohio Valley. The classic ‘Texas Panhandle’ low that swings from northern Texas to the northeast focuses excessive snowfall west of St. Louis with Kansas, Iowa, and northern Illinois (Chicago for instance) receiving the brunt of the heavy snowfall and just rain falling in St. Louis. The 1982 storm was very unusual in that the low formed over central Texas (instead of the panhandle 200 miles to the northeast). It thus moved to the south of the track the ‘Panhandle lows’ follow and St. Louis and southern Illinois were in the region of heaviest snowfall. The storm took forecasters by surprise (they called for just a 2” accumulation in St. Louis).

The unusual path that the great snowstorm of 1982 followed. The low pressure center formed and followed a path that was about 200 miles further to the southeast of where most systems like this normally form and move. Map graphic from NWS-St. Louis office archives.

Appalachian lows tend to focus the heaviest snowfalls to the east of St. Louis in the Ohio Valley (Ohio, Indiana, eastern Kentucky, etc..). In the case of the recent storm the low pressure system swept out from the southern Rockies and took a path almost due east instead of curving to the northeast as normally occurs. This was because of an easterly jet stream that forced the storm along the track it followed.

The upper air and jet stream pattern that caused the recent storm to follow a more easterly track than normally occurs.

REFERENCE: POR (period of record) station details for St. Louis and Springfield can be found in “Climatology of the United States’ Bulletin Q, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Washington D.C., 1906. St. Louis actually has one of the longest sets of weather data in the U.S. with unofficial precipitation records beginning in 1830 (official precipitation records began in 1871 under the Signal Service) and unofficial temperature records dating back to 1836 (Signal Service temperature records began in 1873).

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

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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

Christopher - Parts of the UK had what's been said to be the worst March blizzard since 1940 at the weekend. Drifts to 20 feet down a western strip from North Wales, to the western coast of NW England, to the wstern Isles of Scotland. Electricity transmission towers brought down, the works.
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