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Late Season Snowfall strikes New England and Upstate New York

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:20 PM GMT on May 26, 2013

Late Season Snowfall strikes New England and Upstate New York UPDATED

Heavy snow has fallen over the higher elevations (and valleys as well) this Memorial Day weekend in Upsate New York and New England. UPDATE: Whiteface Mountain in New York’s Adirondack Mountains (elev 4,867’) has reported an incredible 24-34” of snow since Friday and Greensboro, Vermont, located at just 904’ of elevation 4.5”. How unusual is this?

Latest Snowfall Totals

It would appear that snowflakes were observed in upstate New York and New England as low as 750’ on May 24-26 with general measurable accumulations at elevations from 1,500’ and up. Above 4,000’ heavy snowfall in the 6-24” range has fallen in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and Vermont. Here is a review of some of the snow reports (official and unofficial) but keep in mind these are not final totals or verified yet:

24.0”+ Whiteface Mountain, New York (elev. 4,867’). Some reports of 34" at some locations on the mountain.

18.0” Jay Peak, Vermont (elev. 3,862’)

13.2” Mt. Mansfield, Vermont (elev. 4,393-the highest mountain in the state)

6.0" Walden, Vermont (elev. 1,683')

4.5” Greensboro, Vermont (elev. 904’)

4.0” Jefferson, New Hampshire (elev. 1,381’)

3.5” Topsham 3NE, Vermont (elev. 1,500’)

2.0” Troy 2 NE, Vermont (elev. 950’)

1.0” Richford, Vermont (elev. 938’)

1.4” Mt. Washington, New Hampshire (elev. 6,288’-the highest elevation in the state and Northeast). For some reason Mt. Washington seems to have had little snow accumulation during this event with low level sites nearby (like Jefferson) receiving heavier snowfall amounts.



A photo taken on the road that accesses Mt. Whiteface, New York (Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway) on Saturday May 25th where 24-34” of snow has apparently accumulated. Photo by 'Whiteface Crew'.

Binghamton and Syracuse in New York State both reported their latest snowfall on record although just trace amounts (previous latest snow May 17, 1973 in Syracuse and May 18, 1973 and 2002 in Binghamton). In south-central New York snow mixed with rain as low as 740’ at Branchport in Yates County. In general accumulating snow was confined to elevations above 1,500’ throughout the region.



Mt Mansfield, Vermont enjoys an ‘extended’ ski season this Memorial Day weekend. The snow apparently accumulated an amazing 13.2” deep.

Saranac Lake, New York (elev. 1,545) reported some snow mixed with rain and, incredibly, a high temperature of just 40° (actually 39.9°) on Saturday, May 25th (and a low of 35.6°). The normal range of temperature for the day should be 40°-67°. Back in 2007 it was 86° (the record high) and in 1992 the daily record low of 23° was set. Nevertheless, I would suspect the day’s maximum of 40° was coldest such ever recorded at this location for so late in the year. The summit of Mt. Washington is also enjoying a pleasant opening to summer with a high of 29° on Saturday accompanied by freezing rain and snow.



An observatory employee on Mt. Washington hacks away at ice accumulations on the mountains 6,288’ summit this on Saturday, May 25th. Snow and ice is not that uncommon at this time of the year here. Photographer not identified.

Western Europe also seeing snow this weekend

What is shaping up as the coldest spring since 1991 in Western Europe (and perhaps the warmest ever in Eastern Europe!) has also brought low elevation snow to Belgium and Italy. Spa, Belgium (home to the famous Formula 1 autodrome) and located at an elevation of just 450 m (1,485’) saw snow on Friday, May 24th. Snowfall (with thunder) was observed at Tarvisio, Italy at an elevation of 770 m (2,541’) and temperatures fell to -1°C (30°F) at the Kohl-Bonn Airport in Germany.



Snowflakes descend on the racetrack at Spa, Belgium on May 24th. This is one of the latest snow events on record for portions of Western Europe as well as the Northeast in the U.S. Photographer unidentified.

How unusual is this? Historical late May and June snowstorms in New England and New York

Almost everyone has heard of the famous ‘year without summer’ of 1816 when, in 1815, Mt. Tambora of Indonesia exploded with such strength (the greatest volcanic eruption in perhaps the past 60,000 years) that the entire northern hemisphere was encircled with ash and by the summer of 1816 freak cold waves and snow enveloped much of North America, Europe, and Asia.

The June 1816 Snows of the ‘Year without Summer’

Most famous of all cold and snowy late season events would have to be the infamous 1816 ‘Year without Summer’ and the snowfall in June that occurred in the eastern U.S. and Canada. Between June 6th and June 8th accumulating snow was observed as far south as the Catskills in New York (where one inch was reported) and highlands of central and northwest Pennsylvania. Snowflakes were seen at sea level as far south as ten miles north of tidewater on the Hudson River just above New York City. Waltham, a suburb of Boston, reported snowflakes (where the temperature fell to 33° on June 10th) as did Concord, New Hampshire and Montpelier, Vermont. The deepest accumulations were reported in the mountains of Vermont where snowfalls of 12-18” were measured at 1,000-3,000’ elevations (Cabot, Vermont with an elevation of 1,300’ reported 18” although it isn’t clear if this was a level or drift measurement). Quebec City in Canada reported 12” on level with drifts up to two feet deep.



One of the only known daily weather observations made in the U.S. for June 1816 was that maintained by an unidentified observer in Waltham, Massachusetts (a suburb of Boston). Note that temperatures actually varied widely during the month, even peaking at 99° on June 23rd and 90° on June 5th, just a day before the snow episode began. Table reproduced from David Ludlum’s ‘Early American Winters: Vol. 1 1604-1820’.

The even Greater Snow of June 1842

It should be noted that June snowfall in the Northeast is not a unique event to 1816. On June 11, 1842 widespread snow fell over northern New York and New England and snowflakes were observed in Cleveland, Ohio; Boston, Massachusetts; and even Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (all low elevation sites). Accumulations of 10-12” were common in Vermont, so the June 1842 event was actually more extreme than the more famous snow of June 1816.

Other late May snowfalls in the Northeast and New York State

On May 25th, 1838 snow accumulated 6-8” at Otisco, New York, Onondaga County (elev. 1,460’) and Bradford, Pennsylvania picked up 10”. Pittsburg also reported measurable snow as did Wheeling, West Virginia. Snowflakes were observed in lower Manhattan on May 25, 1845 and in Harlem “snow also fell in quantity”. One inch accumulated in Jamaica, Queens County.

REFERENCES for 19th CENTURY SNOWFALLS: Early American Winters: Vol 1: 1604-1820 and Vol 2: 1821-1870 by David M. Ludlum, American Meteorological Society, 1966, 1968.

Latest snowfalls on record in modern record

Burlington, Vermont’s latest snowfall on record was a trace that was observed on May 31, 1945. Albany, New York’s latest was a trace on May 28. 1902. These, of course, are low-level sites and it is hard to find data for the higher elevations of the Northeast (so far as late season snowfalls). The exception, of course, is Mt. Washington in New Hampshire where comprehensive weather records go back to the early 20th century at the observatory on the mountain’s 6,288” summit. In May 1997 95.8” of snow was measured and in 1967 a 22.2” 24-hour accumulation occurred during the month (more recently 16.5” accumulated May 19-24, 2006 and 0.5” on May 30-31, 2009). The June snowfall records are 8.1” for the month of June, 1959 with a 5.1” 24-hour accumulation on some date in June 1988. Even July has seen measurable snowfall here (1.1” in July 1957). Old Forge, in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, received a May record 24-hour snowfall of 14.0” on May 19, 1976.

CONCLUSION

We can say with some certainty that although this weekend’s snowfall is highly unusual for Upstate New York and New England it is not unprecedented historically (except for Whiteface Mountain!) and snowfalls of this magnitude at this time of the year occur about once every five to ten years or so above 4,000’ but are very rare below 1,000’. That being said the 24-34" accumulation on Mt. Whiteface, New York is perhaps the greatest accumulation ever measured so late in the 'season' at any New York or New England location including Mt. Washington.

KUDOS: Maximiliano Herrera for European snow info.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Snow

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

Sharp accumulation profile from 3862', Jay Peak, to 4393 ft, Mt Mansfield, to Whiteface @ 4867'. Then again, Whiteface is quite a massif, pyramidal top about 3000 feet above the ground to the north, ie Redmond NY around 1300'. Orographic/uplift effect or just a stronger narrow moisture band there?
Quoting rod2635:
Sharp accumulation profile from 3862', Jay Peak, to 4393 ft, Mt Mansfield, to Whiteface @ 4867'. Then again, Whiteface is quite a massif, pyramidal top about 3000 feet above the ground to the north, ie Redmond NY around 1300'. Orographic/uplift effect or just a stronger narrow moisture band there?


See my update: Jay Peak reports now up to 18" and Mt. Mansfield total is not yet known.
When I lived in Columbus, Ohio in the early 1970s, I encountered a report of a substantial snow in Ohio on 21 and 22 May 1883 that may be a similar meteorological situation to the current snowstorm in New England. NCDC has put the report online with Climatological Data (www.ncdc.noaa.gov --> Most Popular Data --> Climatological Data Publication --> Individual Monthly Issue --> Ohio --> May 1883), although it is a predecessor publication called Report of the Ohio Meteorological Bureau for the Month of May 1883.

While that publication lists daily temperatures and precipitation, it lists snow amounts only in comments. Here are the measurable totals:
Lima 15.5 inches
Sidney 7
Wauseon 6.5
Upper Sandusky 3
Dayton 2
North Lewisburg 0.5
Several other stations including Lebanon (NE of Cincinnati) and Columbus (but not Ohio State University) - presumably trace amounts

All snow amounts are attributed to the 21st but some stations mention snow on both the 21st and 22nd, which actually had colder high temperatures than the 21st. The observational days may not have been midnight to midnight, and maybe it was a practice to list the total snowfall and the starting date of the event, but the publication does not document the observational practices.

Since this snowstorm was only about a week earlier in the spring than the 27 to 29 May 1947 snowstorm from Colorado to Wisconsin you discuss in your 5 May blog but was several hundred miles southeast of that storm, it should be added to your list of anomalous spring Midwest snowstorms. I suspect this storm is not well known because it occurred too recently to document in Ludlum's histories (which cover through 1870), but before most Signal Corps stations started formally documenting snow around 1884.
Thank you for the in depth perspective Christopher.
Just goes to show us that weather extremes are as old as the hills.
We should not be alarmed by weather being weather and dare I say, climate being climate.

Also, after a more careful review (using a long ruler) of snowfall at Mount Mansfield Vermont, the actual snowfall May 25-26 2013 is 22" with 96" drifts at the upper Nosedive Ski Trail.

Best Regards, Tim Kelley, aka SurfSkiWeatherMan at

a href="http://www.skitheeast.net/tv/episode/5859346 21/tk-memorial-day-snowcast!
">http://www.skitheeast.net/tv/episode/585934621/ tk-memorial-day-snowcast!

and

a href="http://www.necn.com/05/26/13/bTim-Kelley-bOn ly-one-way-to-go-from-her/landing_weathernewenglan d.html?blockID=842095&feedID=6239
">http://www.necn.com/05/26/13/bTim-Kelley-bOnly- one-way-to-go-from-her/landing_weathernewengland.h tml?blockID=842095&feedID=6239

and

a href="http://surfskiweather.us/surf/
">http://surfskiweather.us/surf/

and

a href="http://bluehill.org/observatory/webcams/prud ential-webcams/
">http://bluehill.org/observatory/webcams/prudent ial-webcams/

and

a href="http://www.boardliving.com/index/conditions/
">http://www.boardliving.com/index/conditions/

;-/)
Is it possible that winds at Mount Washington blew snow off the peak and prevented much accumulation at the observation site?
Mt.Washington saw mainly freezing rain due to an elevated warm layer which advected in from the east as for 80% of the storm they were on the east side of the storms' circulation. After the storm moved east of Mt.Washington the storm was filling and becoming barotropic, losing much of the dynamics which allowed for the snowfall on the west side of the system.
Interesting that Western Europe's still cold as well. Parts of the Italian version of the Tour de France cycle race were disrupted by snow.
April 27, 1978 (might have been 26'th.. memory is foggy).  SW VA.   Blacksburg at 2100 feet got 2-6" of very heavy wet snow after a changeover from heavy rain.  THe entire area got 4-6" of  melted liquid from this system.  Points well above Blacksburg (3000') were majority snow and it accumulated 2-3 feet of dense heavy wet snow.   Mountains around Blacksburg still had some snow May 1.

weatherhistorian has created a new entry.
10. est
In Italian Alps last decade of May snowfalls below 1000 m (3280 ft) are quite rare. At Tarvisio it snowed only three times since 1920 after May 20th. But above 1200 m (3937 ft) snowfalls have been recorded over the last 100 years even in June and in late August. In the episode of May 24th snowed up to 400 m (1312 ft), but cloudy skies avoided frosts below 1000 m.