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On the Radar


Jonathan is an emergency management coordinator with a passion for all things weather. He currently lives in south-central Pennsylvania with his wife and son.

Missing: Snow

Jan 06, 2012

The first week of 2012 saw snowfall amounts of one to two feet across portions of the Great Lakes snow belts.  However, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule for many US residents this winter.

I’m expecting to see a picture of Frosty the Snowman on the back of a milk carton with large bold letters asking "HAVE YOU SEEN ME?"
Across the country, many are experiencing what is being called a snow drought. For some, this may not be a bad thing; but when you look at the big picture – it’s not good news say some climatologists.
According to Accuweather.com meteorologist Meghan Evans, a snow depth analysis of the United States taken January 4, 2012 shows only 22% of the country covered by snow – the least amount of snow surveyed from 2004 – 2012. 
National snow depth map, 1/5/2012.  Map by: National Weather Service - National Operational Hydrolic Remote Sensing Center.
Nearly all areas accustomed to snow this time of the year report significantly less snow than normal. In Philadelphia, PA, there has been no measurable snowfall since the freak Halloween snowstorm of 2011. In Minnesota, the absence of any snow cover has led to large wildfires breaking out across the state because the ground vegetation is essentially freeze dried. Ski resorts have fewer slopes open – if any at all – impacting the local economy.
For some, like municipal managers who keep a close eye on snow removal budgets, the lack of snow is a blessing. However, some are beginning to sound the alarm on the lack of snow. 
In the Rockies, the snowpack is significantly less than it was at this time last year. That has led some to worry about the available water supply after the spring thaw begins. The California Dept. of Water Resources reports that the first snowpack survey of the year shows the statewide snowpack water content is only 19% of the January 3 average. However, DWR director Mark Cowin stated in a press release "fortunately, we have most of the winter ahead of us, and out reservoir stage is good."
Accuweather Expert Senior Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler warns that the lack of snow and significant cold could spell trouble for famers in parts of the Midwest. Mohler cautioned that without snow cover to insulate winter wheat, a sub-zero cold snap could stunt growth and reduce production of this year’s wheat crop.
Image source:  USDA
In addition, farmers could be dealt another blow if a dry spring follows a dry winter. Without snow melt to boost the amount of available moisture, the planting season could be painful for some farmers. The combination of a dry winter and dry spring could also expand the amount of area impacted by the drought already occurring in the southern Plains.
Long range forecasts hint at a change in winter weather with stormier, colder weather possible. However, how much snow will result in the change is difficult to forecast. 
I’ll revisit this issue as the winter evolves as the continuation of the snow drought may have a serious impact across most of the country.


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