The winter of 2007-8 served as a reminder for much of the country, and indeed much of the world, that despite the starring role now being played by global warming, Old Man Winter has not completely exited the stage. In fact, wintry weather enjoyed a dramatic comeback this year compared to the wimpy winters of the recent past.
Unfortunately for snow lovers in Washington, however, most of winter's wallop struck outside the Mid-Atlantic this year. At times it seemed that the cities of Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York had been put on a federal do-not-snow list as storm after storm turned into rain events.
The Washington metro region's lack of snow is particularly striking when compared to the heavy snow that fell in other areas.
According to NOAA, on a global level the period from December 2007 through February 2008 was the coolest winter since 2001. However, this was still warmer than average. In the contiguous United States, it was only the 54th coolest winter since national records began in 1895. Still, in this warming world, simply a less mild-than-average season was noteworthy.
For example, relentless onslaughts of wintry weather hit Chicago so forcefully that the Chicago Tribune wrote an editorial last week that amounted to an S.O.S. call. The newspaper dubbed the winter a "character builder," which says a lot considering that town's reputation for bitterly cold weather.
The statistics for the "windy city" read like an ad for a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) drug. Since Dec.1, Chicago did not experience more than a two-day break between precipitation events, and often the city was treated to what the Tribune called an "unspeakable mix" of nearly every type of precipitation possible. To date, 53 inches of snow have fallen in Chicago during one of its cloudiest winters on record, which is an especially dismal record to break considering that Chicago's winters are typically quite drab.
Western states also saw above average snows, with NOAA reporting that above normal snowpack in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Oregon will aid drought-starved reservoirs this spring. The Alta Ski Resort near Salt Lake City, Utah, received 170 inches of snow in January alone. Parts of New England also set snowfall records. Concord, New Hampshire received 100.1 inches which beat out a record set in 1886, while Burlington, Vermont had 103.2 inches.
In contrast to the Midwest, West, and parts of the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic didn't get in on the winter weather action this year beyond some wintry mix events. For this region, the weather proved steadfastly loyal to the trend towards wet, and not white, winters. This was particularly galling to the jilted snow fans who visit the Capital Weather Gang. For them, each record snow event elsewhere seemed like a personal insult.
Heck, even southern China had record snows while Washingtonians carried umbrellas to work.
Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., for example, recorded just 4.9 inches of snow. The storm track was almost always too far to the north and west of the big cities for cold air to stay locked in place to ensure a snowstorm.
Washington's paltry seasonal snow total was about the same amount that fell in a few hours in Columbus, Ohio last week, when that city set records for its greatest 24 hour snowfall and greatest storm total snowfall, with 20.4 inches.
According to The Weather Channel's Stu Ostro, as Columbus' storm spun into Canada, Quebec City reported zero visibility in snow & blowing snow, with a sustained wind at 46 mph, gusting to 76 mph. Now that's a snowstorm! Canada's capital city of Ottawa is approaching its all-time record for snow in one season, which was set in 1970-71.
Canada as a whole experienced a return to its traditional cold weather. In western Canada, the weather finally got cold enough to give weary foresters hope for containing the scourge of mountain pine beetles that have been spreading east into Alberta. The beetles have killed 78 percent of British Columbia's pine trees, and it takes sustained extreme cold to kill the pests.
In light of the widespread cold and snow this year elsewhere, perhaps disappointed Washington area snow lovers should raise their profile by adopting a symbol for their cause. I've got one suggestion: harp seals. According to ABC News, a milder-than-normal winter in the Baltic states has been helping to raise the mortality rate of young seals in that region. Hopefully D.C. snow lovers can avoid that sad fate, or maybe they'll simply move to colder locations.
Then again, it is only mid-March. Cherry Blossom blizzard of '08, anyone?