White Gold—An Update on Snow and Drought

January 29, 2016
Sledding Fun

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

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!


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