The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

D.C., Philly and New York have seen no snow this winter. What’s going on?

While the western mountains are buried, much of the Northeast is in a snow drought that is creeping into historic territory

Snowfall compared to average in the Northeast. Most spots are running below to well below average. (Ian Livingston/The Washington Post) (TWP)
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If you’re a snow lover or ski area owner in most of the northeast quadrant of the Lower 48, the situation is bleak.

Below-average snowfall stretches along the entire Interstate 95 corridor from North Carolina to Maine. In Washington, Philadelphia and New York, no measurable snow has fallen.

Interior areas aren’t doing much better. Snowfall in the Allegheny Mountains is running 2 to 3 feet below average. Amounts are also below normal in the Catskills of New York and Green and White mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire.

While snow continues piling up in the West, there are no clear signs the East will see snowier weather in the near future.

Multiple cities approaching record late first accumulation

Several cities along the East Coast are closing in on their latest start to the snow season on record owing to a lack of measurable snow:

  • New York City: This winter has gone the ninth longest without measurable snow. Its latest first measurable snow is Jan. 29.
  • Philadelphia: This winter has gone the 12th longest without measurable snow. Its latest first measurable snow is Feb. 3, although no snow fell in the winter of 1972-73.
  • Atlantic City: This winter has gone the 13th longest without measurable snow. Its latest first measurable snow is Feb. 16.
  • Baltimore: This winter has gone the 11th longest without measurable snow. Its latest first measurable snow is Feb. 21.
  • Washington: This winter has gone the 16th longest without measurable snow. Its latest first measurable snow is Feb. 23.

In New York City and Philadelphia, the winter’s first accumulating snowfall is now over a month later than average. In Washington, it’s more than two weeks late.

The average first accumulating snowfall has been drifting later into the calendar year over time in much of the coastal northeast because of climate change and urbanization.

Snow is also in short supply in New England. Boston has picked up a paltry 1.2 inches. That’s about 13.5 inches below average. In Portland, Maine, the 6.8 inches to date compares to an average of 22.6 inches.

Snow in the interior Northeast is down, too

In plenty of subpar winters for snow, one can still head to the mountains to find powder. Not so much this season.

Lest anyone think the snow bounty around Buffalo — where a brutal blizzard hit around Christmas — is widespread, consider nearby Syracuse has only received 20.1 inches compared to an average of 49.8 through Jan. 10. Similarly, only 9.3 inches has fallen in Rochester compared to an average of 36.7 inches to date.

In Burlington, Vt., only 17.5 inches has fallen compared to the average of 32.6 inches average to date. In the mountains northeast of Burlington, snow totals this season are generally 2 feet or more below average, including on Mount Mansfield whose snow depth has been flirting with the lowest on record.

At Mount Washington, N.H., in the White Mountains, the 73.6 inches of snow so far are 43.6 inches below average.

The snow drought continues as one travels south through the Appalachians.

The coldest and snowiest parts of the Mid-Atlantic have seen historically low snowfall so far. In Canaan Valley, one of the coldest and snowiest regions of West Virginia, amounts are about 42 inches below average to date. Elkins, W.Va., has only registered 3.8 inches to date, versus an average of 24.8 inches.

Similarly, the peaks along the North Carolina and Tennessee border are running about a foot to a foot and a half below average.

Huge contrast from the West

The West Coast is stealing much of the East Coast’s snow as a parade of storms bombards California. Since the West is so reliant on that snowpack for its water resources, the many feet of accumulation in the Sierra Nevada and nearby mountains is generally good news.

Some of the highest peaks in the Sierra have seen totals 200 to 250 or more inches above average to date, or already near typical totals for an entire winter. Mammoth Mountain in the eastern Sierra reported 310 inches Tuesday morning, compared to its seasonal average of 400 inches, with heavy snow still falling.

Since jet streams tend to be wavy, if there’s a dip in the West, helping to draw in storms from the ocean, there will often be a bump in the East, deflecting storms away.

Pattern change ahead to increase snow chances?

Odds of a cold and snowy pattern evolving in the Northeastern U.S. are not great for the next one to two weeks. But because it’s the middle of winter when temperatures are generally coldest, snow can sometimes still develop on short notice — even amid a mild pattern.

The pattern could become more conducive to snow in the East starting around Jan. 20. That’s when the jet stream pattern may flip — thwarting the stormy onslaught in the West and allowing cold air to return to the East.

However, the strong jet stream flow into the West may be hard to break down so computer models advertising this pattern change could be wrong.

Snow lovers are probably best advised to head West for reliable snow until further notice.