Winter’s New Normals

Snow and Ice Report - Weather

What will new weather data tell us about the future of snow and ice events?

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October 13, 2020

© nyker | Adobe Stock

I always enjoy collaborating with our weather buddies at Thermodynamic Solutions because, without fail, they always provide us not only with great insights about winter weather trends, but they do so in an easy-to-understand fashion. Recently, Co-Owner Beth Carpenter reached out about how the weather industry is closing the book on an old set of bench-marking numbers in lieu of more recent data, and what all of this has to say about snowfall totals.

Since Beth is the weather expert, I’ll let her explain:

“As a consulting meteorologist, I frequently get asked to provide annual snowfall “averages” or “normal” – we’ll use these terms interchangeably here – for a location to help snow removal companies build accurate contracts. We also use these averages to forecast general ideas for the winter season. For example, saying 'above normal snowfall is expected this winter.' I’ve previously discussed what these normals are and how they’re used in weather forecasting. You can read that by entering bit.ly/34IOS3u into your browser.

“As I discussed in that blog post, the climate normal is the average condition, sum, etc. of a 30-year period. The current climate period that we use in meteorology is 1981-2010. However, after next winter, we’ll be switching to a new climate period that will be 1991-2020. I wanted to examine how the snowfall “normal” will change for various cities across the snow belt. So, I’ve compiled the preliminary (though incomplete because it’s missing this coming winter) data into the chart in the previous link.

“The results were very mixed. Locations such as Indianapolis won’t see a significant change, with only a decrease in annual snowfall of roughly a half-inch.

“However, Cleveland will see an over four-inch decrease in average annual snowfall, which is much more significant. Bismarck and Minneapolis will see decreases in their average annual snowfall as well.

“Opposite of those locations, Boston will see a significant increase in average annual snowfall of more than four inches, with Green Bay and Glasgow seeing similar increases.

“Anecdotally, last year I researched the commonly held notion in the snow and ice management industry of the “Three Year Snow Cycle.” This suggests that only one in every three years actually ends up with an “average” or “normal” snowfall. For a refresher on this, you can read that article by entering bit.ly/2ReZXTi into your browser.

“Suffice it to say, the new normals shouldn’t change the notion of the three-year winter weather cycle. I would still expect that over a nine-year period, most locations will see three years at, above, and below the new normal.”

Mike Zawacki is editor of Snow Magazine.