White Gold—An Update on Snow and Drought

Jan 29, 2016
Sledding Fun


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Once again, South Dakota has had record-breaking snowfall, although, fortunately not the four to five feet dump that it saw in October.

Don’t be surprised—so far 18 states, from Washington to Pennsylvania, have broken snow records. For drivers, snow is a nuisance, but in the Western US and on ski slopes, the cold stuff is white gold!

There’s been even more rain than snow. In October, states broke more than 2500 precipitation records and November shows signs of also being active. Notice, a lot of this rain is going to drought-stricken areas of the Midwest and Great Plains. 

Click to enlarge this picture.
Record-breaking rainfall (green dots) has brought drought relief for the Midwest and Great Plains.

For many readers (especially the skiers) the big question is whether this autumn rain will translate into beautiful white snow. According to most experts—YES!

There are two reasons for this. In the north, the Arctic air mass is unusually cold, creating the coldest summer on record. To the south and east, the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico, is warmer than normal. The cold Arctic air is surging south, meeting the hot wet air. As the hot air cools, it can hold less moisture and the water in the air rains out. As the air turns even colder, the rain becomes snow.

The Arctic had the coldest summer on record this year. Photo courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder.

We have already seen snowfall from Chicago to Boston, New York City and Philadelphia. By mid-winter, temperatures should be cold enough for the snow to linger. Think White Christmas!

White gold! Source: Wikipedia, photograph by David Shankbone

Meanwhile, for those of you in the half of the country (55%) that is dry or in drought, there is good news. The drought is not ending, but the snow and moisture is bringing a lot of relief, particularly for the Midwest, Great Plains and Central Rockies. (Sorry, California!) If snow is white gold, then this winter should be golden.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

Reader Comments

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I'm just going to go ahead

I'm just going to go ahead and say winter has arrived early this year. This coming week we'll have bitter cold temperatures and NOAA is projecting below normal temperatures for the first week of December. Here in central North Carolina we have a chance of seeing a wintry mix from the same storm impacting Texas and New Mexico dumping snow. I feel pretty confident we'll see our first significant snowfall of the season soon! Winter is off to a busy start and I am confident this winter will be colder than the past couple of years. Spread the wealth to NC as well please! Snow is so beautiful and I would love some snow before Christmas to cover the pretty lights and decorations in white. Crossing my fingers for a cold holiday season. Have a great Thanksgiving! :D

I would love to see Mr. Snow

I would love to see Mr. Snow bunny in the Raleigh, NC area. *sigh*

I will hope with you. It's a

I will hope with you. It's a bit harder to have a white Christmas in Texas than it is in most states.

We are really hoping to have

We are really hoping to have a nice snow week in the Southern area of the country-namely, West TN (Memphis & outlying communities). If we get any sign of snow,it is usually the slushy stuff or ice. Wet winters are not my favorite. We have had 3 full seasons so far in 2013. Very unusual here. Especially the last 5 years.
It has been a very nice summer with a full fall. I am only guessing that we are due for a cold winter but how cold and how long is always the question. The saying is, " stick around for a few hours and the weather will change from mild cold to very warm to slightly cold again." We need a good cold winter with some nice snow fall. Hope it's coming this year.

A lot of experts seem to

A lot of experts seem to think that a cold winter in the Southeast may have a slow start but arrive by mid-winter. Good luck!

Really hoping for another

Really hoping for another 300+ inches this year and the sooner it starts falling the better. My area's economy depends upon tourism. This summer was cold by everyone's standards and summer tourism was a bit down. Hunting season seems to be a bit off too. We could make up for it with enough early snow to bring in the Winter recreation crowds.

Here's hoping everyone gets the snow they are hoping for and communities like mine can get the right amount of that wonderful white gold.

Best of luck for you and your

Best of luck for you and your community. May you strike white gold!

Here in northern California

Here in northern California we mostly have the famous mild weather but with some of the highs and lows of the seasons. I am anxious for cool weather to arrive as we have actually had Thanksgivings so warm (in the 70's-80's) we had use the air conditioning when using the oven all day. That really takes the holiday feel out of a celebration!

You have some awfully warm

You have some awfully warm waters off the coast and it's going to take a while for them to move away. I don't think a cool Thanksgiving is in the cards but I wish you luck for Christmas and New Years.

What was it that happened the

What was it that happened the past couple of years to bring us non existent winters in the east? 2011-12 was crazy itself! then everyone said 2012-13 was going to be very snowy then we ended up getting very little snow here in DC! It was a disappointment if I say so myself but the thing about this year is that there is no El Nino or La Nina to drive our weather so our winter is completely depended on how the NAO/AO play out (at least most of it)I just hope the same thing doesn't happen this year. Even if we do have a positive NAO/AO that's not to say it won't get cold and it won't snow, right? I just want an old fashioned winter.

The problem has been that the

The problem has been that the Atlantic has been quite warm throughout 2012 and into 2013. That kept temperatures too warm for snow to accumulate. The Atlantic is still warm but cooler than 2012.

I dream of a white Christmas

I dream of a white Christmas this year! Its been a few years since I've had a white Christmas and I've always loved December snows. All of the pretty holiday decorations with snow on the ground is just so beautiful. The odds of a white Christmas are low but a snow at least near Christmas is good enough for me. I just hope this December isnt as warm as the past 2 years. Warm weather spoils the holidays! What's Christmas when it's sunny and warm? I am hoping for a cold December. It would be so nice to have our traditional winter back. Are the chances of snow good in December for the western piedmont of VA? I was looking at the NAO/AO forecast on NOAA and they both look to go quite negative at the end of November.

If you had snow in the winter

If you had snow in the winter of 2009 - 2010, there is an excellent chance you will have it this year. I hope you have the best of both worlds -- sunny with enough snow on the ground to build snow men and snow angels.


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