There are several conditions needed for snow. Of course, it must be cold, specifically below freezing (32° Fahrenheit or 0° Celsius)—both in the atmosphere and near the ground.
Additionally, warm, moist air must meet cold air, forcing it to lift over the frigid air mass. This is why there are often heavy snows near lakes or what we call “Lake Effect” snow; very cold air blows across a warm body of water. The warmer the air, the more moisture; this allows storms to dump huge amounts of snow once the temperature falls.
One more condition for heavy snow is the position of the jet stream. When a warm, moist air mass from the south collides with a very cold air mass from the north, and the temperature drops below freezing, except snow to dump!
Determining the Top Snowiest Cities
The list below is based on average number of inches of snowfall (including ice pellets and sleet) from the official records of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration since reporting began. The weather data comes in from individual weather stations from all over the United States.
Notes: The accuracy of weather reporting is only as good as your local weather station’s reports. This list reflects historical data based on the weather station’s period of record; beginning in April 1988, hail is also included under snowfall, which means that some stations may show snowfall during the warm months.See NOAA observed data.
The Snowiest of Them All: Mount Washington, NH
While this list is focused on cities, we can’t fail to mention Mount Washington, NH. The weather station, located on its summit, reports the most snowfall with 283.5 inches per year!
This substantial snowfall is due in part to Mount Washington’s high prominence at the confluence of two major storm tracks, and to the north-south orientation of the Presidential Range ridgeline, which it crowns. Mount Washington also holds the record as the windiest place in the United States (and ranks second in the world for windiness).
Besides Mount Washington, there are many towns in the United States that received impressive amounts of snow but didn’t make the 10,000 population cut-off. The town with the most snow is: Valdez, Alaska with 279.4 inches per year, on average. Another stand-out is Blue Canyon, CA with a historical average of 241.7 inches per year!
Top U.S. Snowiest Cities
1. Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
One of the oldest French settlements in North America, Sault Ste. Marie is located near the bank of a river which connects Lake Huron and Lake Superior. With lake-effect snow, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the snowiest places in the United States. Sault Ste. Marie has received an average snowfall of 119.3 inches per year.
2. Syracuse, New York
Upstate New York is certainly no stranger to snow. Syracuse has the highest annual snowfall with 114.3 inches per year, on average. Not far behind is Buffalo with 92 inches and Rochester with 89.3 inches. All are in the traditional lake-effect snow belts, with cold winds from the west moving across the relatively warm Great Lakes.
3. Juneau, Alaska
The capital of Alaska gets 93.6 inches of snowfall per year. Other major Alaskan cities also bring the snow, including Anchorage (73.1 inches) and Fairbanks (64.8 inches).
While we’re not included populations below 10,000, take a glance at the average snowfall in some of these towns! Valdez, AK has a record of 279.4 inches per year! Yakutat, AK received 162.1 inches of snow on average and Talkeetna, AK receives 120.9 inches.
4. Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth is a port city on Lake Superior in Minnesota. Yep, it’s that lake effect, again! Duluth sits on the north shore of Lake Superior at the westernmost point of the Great Lake, and the city receives an annual snowfall of 83.5 inches, on average.
Of course, there are many big snow cities in our northern-tier state of Minnesota, including International Falls (64.8 inches), Minneapolis-St. Paul (49.9 inches), Rochester (45.6 inches), and Saint Cloud (45 inches).
5. Erie, Pennsylvania
Noticing a trend? Erie is a city on the south shore of Lake Erie; it’s the only port on the Great Lakes. This city is a very snowy place to live with 80.9 inches on average. Its winters are moderately cold, with heavy lake-effect snow.
6. Burlington, Vermont
Ah, snowy Vermont. The scenic town of Burlington is located in northwestern Vermont, on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, south of the Canadian border. Locals say there’s usually at least an inch on the ground throughout winter, totaling 80.2 inches over their long, wintry months.
7. Muskegon, Michigan
A winter wonderland, Muskegon is situated between Lake Michigan to the west and Muskegon Lake to the north, receiving heavy lake-effect snow from Lake Michigan during winter time, totaling 79.3 inches annually. Midwesterners flock to Muskegon in the winter for luging, ice skating, and wintry fun. The state of Michigan has many snowy cities, including Grand Rapids (74.6 inches), Flint (49.9) and Detroit (43).
8. Casper, Wyoming
Winters are cold, snowy, and beautiful in Casper. At a mile high, it’s not surprising that Casper has snow—about 77 inches per year, on average. In this case, it’s more of a dry snow, not the moist lake-effect snow that many of the other cities above receive. The bigger issue is probably the cold winter winds and the wind chill factor.
9. Portland, Maine
Portland has cold, snowy, and often prolonged winters with 70 annual inches of snow, on average. It’s not as high on this snow list as some of the far-northern U.S. cities because Portland is located along the coastline. Warmer ocean waters cause subfreezing air to erode which can cause snow to transition to sleet or rain along the coast.
While many small towns in Maine fall below our 10,000 population cut-off, the town with the most snow on average is Caribou, Maine with a whopping 114.3 inches per year, on average.
10. Worcester, Massachusetts
Winters are particularly snowy in Worcester, which is located about 40 miles west of Boston. The city averages 66.8 inches of snow annually (while snowfall for Boston totals 43.8 inches). Located at a higher elevation than surrounding towns, Worcester is harder hit by Nor’easter storms and extreme blizzards as warm, humid air from the southwest collides with cool, dry air from the north.
What other U.S. cities get a lot of snow? Here are some other cities that didn’t make the “top 10” list but they’re definitely snowy!
11. Elkins, WV (63 inches)
12. Concord, NH (65.2 inches)
13. South Bend, IN (62.5 inches)
14. Great Falls, MT (61.5 inches) and Billings, MT (59.3 inches)
15. Salt Lake City, UT (58.2 inches)
16. Denver, CO (57.2 inches)
The 2023 Winter Forecast!
What about winter 2022/2023? It’s a tale of two winters! One half of the country will deal with bone-chilling cold and loads of snow, while the other half may feel like winter never really arrives. Find out your 2023 Winter Forecast!