Record breaking snowfalls

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  • Figure 1: Night-time satellite image of the central USA showing the extent of snow cover on the morning 23rd February. Source: NASA.

    Figure 2: Snow depths after the second snow event on the 26th February. Source: NOAA.

    Figure 3: Snow cover across the United States on the 28th February. Source: NOAA

  • Record breaking snowfalls
    28.02.2013 16:02

    Several countries in the Northern Hemisphere have seen some record breaking snowfalls this winter.

    The central United States has experienced a couple of severe winter storms over the past week, blanketing a large swathe of the country in snow from north Texas across to the Great Lakes region. 12-20cm (5-8in) fell across much of the Great Plains during the night of 21st February and through the following day with some parts of Kansas seeing as much as 40cm (15in) of snow, before the system swept north-eastwards towards the Great Lakes. (see figure 1).

    Another winter storm developed at the start of this week across northern Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle on Monday and Tuesday. Amarillo, Texas received as much as 48cm (19in) of snow, which was the third largest snowfall event ever recorded in the city as well as the largest snowfall in a 24 hour period (see figure 2). The winter storms originated from thunderstorms which developed across central Texas during the afternoon on 21st February, and as they tracked northwards through the evening and encountered colder air, thundersnow developed over northern Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. At one point, snow was falling at incredible rates of 7.5cm (3in) per hour, and combined with strong winds, blizzard conditions reduced visibility to less than 15m in places. After last year’s mild weather and sparse snowfalls, many cities have recorded several times the amount of snow this winter compared to last. 

    Some other parts of the Northern Hemisphere have also had record breaking snowfalls this winter. Northern parts of Japan have seen huge quantities of snowfall over the last few months. Sokayu, in the far north of the island of Honshu, has so far seen accumulated snowfalls reach 5.61m, beating the previous record in Japan of 5.29m. Amounts of precipitation have been fairly average for the time of year, but as mean temperatures this winter have been around 1-1.5ºC below the long term average, much of the precipitation has fallen as snow. The low temperatures have also prevented a thaw of the lying snow, particularly on the higher ground and therefore have allowed these record snow depths to build up. The European Alps and Pyrenees have also seen large amounts of snowfall since the start of winter, with the ski resort of Cauterets in the French Pyrenees reporting 5.5m of lying snow, a world record amount for a ski resort.

    By: Chris Burton