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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

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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.