Heavy snow hits the USA and Europe

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  • Forecast ECMWF snow depth (cm) over the Alps for 1200 Saturday 14th January.

    Graph depicting observed snow depth at Valdez, Alaska. Source: NOAA

    USA Snow analsyis for 0600 Saturday 14th January. Snow accumulations can be seen over the Midwest, the Great Lakes and North-east as a result of the recent winter storm. Source: NOAA.

  • Heavy snow hits the USA and Europe
    14.01.2012 15:51

     

    Winter tightened its grip on the Northern Hemisphere this week, with disruptive snowfalls making the news on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Across the Alps, thousands of skiers were left stranded in tourist resorts earlier this week as severe snowfalls blocked roads and railways. The snow, reported to be the worst in 30 years, has been caused by a succession of active fronts plunging south-eastwards into Central Europe. Worst affected has been western Austria and south-east Switzerland.18 ft of snow was reported at the Austrian resort of Arlberg on Wednesday 11th January, much of which had fallen over the previous week.

    Severe winter weather has also been battering parts of the United States. While heavy snowfalls are nothing unusual in Alaska, frequent storms have been pummelling the state throughout the winter, leading to some exceptional accumulations. In the town of Valdez, situated on the coast of Prince William Sound, a staggering 321.5 inches (over 26 ft) of snow has fallen since November. This is equivalent to the town’s average for the entire season, and with several months of winter remaining, the record of 560.7 inches set in 1989/90 is on course to be broken. The storms have forced the town’s schools to close for the first time in over 20 years, and the National Guard has been called in to help clear the roads. The weight of the snow has also led to building collapses, and three boats in Kodiak Harbour have so far capsized. On Friday 13th January, a tanker carrying a crucial fuel delivery finally arrived on the state’s western coastline. Hindered by sea ice, unfavourable currents and high winds, the tanker’s progress was reduced to just 50 ft a day earlier in the week. The exceptional snowfalls have been due to a combination of La Nina conditions and a strongly positive Arctic oscillation. This has kept the coldest air bottled up at high latitudes, and sent a series of intense winter storms across the state.

    Meanwhile, unusually mild conditions across the Midwest, Great Lakes and the North-east gave way to the first major snowstorm of the winter on Thursday as a low pressure system tracked east across the country. Several inches of snow fell across much of the region, while the Great Lakes region was braced for up to a foot. Three people were killed as the conditions led to hundreds of traffic accidents, while over 500 flights were cancelled at Chicago O’Hare airport as 5 inches of snow blanketed the city.

    By: Billy Payne