After the unusually warm and snowless winter of 2011—2012, many people questioned if winter could make a comeback. Well it did. Last winter was cold and especially snowy.
According to data from the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the winter average snow cover extent for the contiguous United States was 1.3 million square miles, which was 127,000 square miles above the 1981—2010 average. This marked the 15th largest seasonal snow cover extent in the 1966—present period of record.
How Our Forecasts Fared
In terms of our predictions, we had “red-flagged” two time frames for major coastal storms along the Atlantic Seaboard. In both cases, the anticipated systems came only about 1 to 3 days earlier than forecasted. For February 12th—15th we forecast a “major Northeast snowstorm” with accumulations exceeding one foot and accompanied by strong winds causing blowing snow.
And indeed, a clipper system and coastal storm merged to create blizzard conditions in parts of the Northeast from February 8th through the 10th. The storm dumped record-setting snowfall from New York to Maine. The highest snowfall total of 40 inches was reported in Hamden, CT. Strong winds (a gust of 83 mph was reported in Falmouth, MA) brought whiteout conditions to much of New England and whipped up waves that carved a 1,600-foot-wide hole in the barrier beach near Chatham, MA. In New York, the storm left more than one hundred cars stranded along the Long Island Expressway while in Connecticut there were reports of over a dozen collapsed roofs due to the snow. The storm left some 650,000 customers without power and resulted in a dozen deaths.
Then we targeted March 20th—23rd for another major coastal storm “with strong winds and heavy precipitation.” On March 18th—19th, a storm formed along the South Jersey coast and tracked northeast bringing another hefty dose of wintry conditions to Eastern New York state and New England with snow amounts ranging from 6 to 19 inches. All this as we were about to make the seasonal transition from winter to spring!
Slight Relief for the Drought
Concerning the drought, there was some good news and bad news. Back-to-back winter storms on February 20th—23rd and 25th—28th, brought heavy snowfall from New Mexico to Michigan. Wichita, Kansas had its snowiest month on record. And much of the Southeast was wetter than average during the winter, improving long-term drought conditions; Georgia had its wettest February on record. As a consequence of all of these factors, the total coverage of drought conditions nationwide decreased by 8 percent from the beginning of the winter season. That was the good news. The bad news was that more than half–54 percent–of the contiguous United States was still in drought as the winter wound down.
Sudden Shift from Warm to Cold
Last winter, we indicated that the Central and Eastern states would be cold, while the Western states would be mild. As winter began, the reverse was true; December and January were exceptionally mild months for areas east of the Mississippi. But then, as we moved into February, everything suddenly reversed: the Central and Eastern states got colder while the West moderated.
During the second half of the winter, the weather was dominated by a strong dome of high pressure over Greenland, which served as a huge atmospheric block; in essence, acting as a red light to drastically slow down or even stop the normal west-to-east flow of weather system. This is known as a negative North Atlantic Oscillation/Arctic Oscillation (NAO/AO) pattern. This brings the polar jet stream southward with colder air spilling over much of the central and eastern parts of the nation, providing a traditionally stormier track with more East coast storms. As March 2013 was coming to a close, the negative values for the NAO/AO were approaching all-time record levels. And then remember last April? If you live in the Northern and Central Plains or Western Great Lakes, last April was very cold, white, and wet, something so unusual that it probably won’t happen again for another 50 or 100 years.
Want to know what’s in store for the coming winter? We’ll be releasing our 2014 forecast on Monday. Watch our homepage!