Mt. Washington

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Looking at the winter so far

February 7, 2012; 11:55 AM ET

We're just over halfway through our winter season on Mount Washington (October through May), so I wanted to use an entry to see how the winter is coming along, meteorologically speaking of course. I think this is especially valuable given how I hear some people talking about this winter here in New England and in the northeast in general. I've heard some folks go so far as to say they have 'never seen a winter like this before'. Obviously, I am going to focus on Mount Washington, and I can tell you right away that this winter is not unprecedented, and that includes both the warmth and amount of snow. Although we obviously measure a lot more than temperature and snowfall, those are the variables I am going to focus in this entry.

Looking at temperatures first, we are definitely running above average, that is no secret. Every month so far this winter season has seen a monthly average temperature above average: 1.7 degrees, 6.5 degrees, 6.2 degrees, and 3.4 degrees respectively for October through January. Obviously, this is somewhat impressive (or depressing, for me personally), but again, it's not unprecedented. At this point, I am speaking purely on an empirical level, but only because I simply don't have the time at this point to dig through our nearly 80 year climate record to prove it with numbers. One thing that I will say may be particular unusual about this winter is the lack of extreme cold. Even in some of the warmer winters that I have been here for, we have at least had a couple extreme cold outbreaks where air temperatures drop below 20 below zero. So far this winter, our coldest reading has been 17 below zero. If that trend continues, and we don't even see a reading below 20 below, I will definitely have to do some data analysis and figure out if that has ever occurred before in our history.

Looking at snowfall, again, it should not come as a surprise that we are below average for snowfall right now. However, when you compare this year to last year, we are nearly equal in snowfall total. Before I get ahead of myself though, let's look at this year. Here are snowfall totals for October through January listed respectively, with departure from average in parenthesis: 20.7 (+6.9), .18.6 (-22.2), 38.6 (-11.4), 38.8 (-14.0). That gives us a total for that same time period of 116.7 inches, which is 40.7 inches below average. If we look at the same time period for the 2010-2011 winter, we see a total of 118.8 inches, or 38.6 inches below average. So, as I was saying, there is a negligible difference between snowfall this year compared to last year, so far. However, when you look at our snowpack in various places around the mountain, there is a big visual difference between this year and last year. That has everything to do with how temperatures have tended to fluctuate so much, especially back in November and December. During those months, we would build up a bit of a snowpack, and then it would all melt, then the cycle would start again.

I'm always a big fan of keeping things in perspective, and I even wrote a whole entry about that not too long ago. During winters like this, I think it becomes increasingly important to look at the big picture. The general public always seems to have such a short memory when it comes to the weather, and that's why you hear people saying things like I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, even though such statements may have little to no scientific truth to back it up. Certainly, it will be very interesting to look back at this winter and compare it to long term climate records to see where it stands. It may indeed turn out to be one of the warmest on record for a lot of places in the eastern United States. It also may not turn out that way depending on what happens over the rest of the winter. Even if it does, I think it is also important to consider that the eastern United States does not necessarily represent the rest of the world or even the rest of the country. In fact, some parts of the world are seeing truly unprecedented cold and snow, and I even recently saw a graph from NCEP that showed that the global temperature anomaly has been trending below average for most of the past year, and had fallen significantly recently.

You can look at the data that I used to create this post, as well as lots of additional monthly climate data by heading over to the Observatory's website and checking out the monthly F6 forms. Also, be sure to check back tomorrow, when I will be posting a few nice pictures and a video that I took during this past week on the summit of Mount Washington!

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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