WeatherMatrix (Jesse Ferrell)

Where in the U.S. gets both extreme snow and severe thunderstorms?

By Jesse Ferrell
5/25/2018, 11:34:28 AM

A Facebook friend from France recently asked me: If he were to relocate to the United States, which city would provide the heaviest snowfall, combined with the best chance for severe thunderstorms? He had done a lot of research already on a city-by-city basis, but I'd like to address looking at this question through maps.

U.S. Average Snowfall + Average Tornadoes

I've created the map above from two NOAA maps -- their Average Annual Snowfall in the Contiguous U.S. (Based on NOAA NCEI 1981-2010 climate normals data) and their U.S. Tornado Track Map, years 1956 to 2016. I believe this points out a couple of important things. First, there is no (major) city where both extreme snowfalls and frequent tornadoes take place. This is somewhat due to the fact that heavier snow falls at higher elevations, yet those mountains disrupt severe storm activity.

What the maps do show (I think) is that there are a few locations that both receive heavy snowfall and experience frequent tornadoes nearby. In other words, if you can't have both, where can you live with the least distance from both? The largest city that fits this bill is Denver, Colorado (which was also recently ranked the #3 place to live in the U.S.), and I've noted its location with a red arrow.

Chart of 78 to 82 Degrees

My friend had some very specific temperature requirements for summer (76-78 F), judged winters in the northern Plains to be too cold. He also said the temperatures in Denver were too changeable, but unfortunately much of the U.S. does experience changeable temperatures year-round, and in fact it is that changeability (caused by geographic influences) that drives the heavy snow and the severe weather in Colorado.

There is an interactive map at the Washington Post where you can put in your ideal temperature and find out where you can experience it the most. In fact, when considering anywhere in the nation that ever has high temperatures between 76 and 78 F, the Denver area still fairs pretty well (the only places that are 76-78 are far, far from the heavy snow or tornadoes).

Denver High Temperatures 4/11

The temperature variance around Denver on a normal spring day like last Tuesday (see high temperature map above) can range from the 30s in the mountains to the 80s in the Plains nearby (or smaller Colorado Springs to the south, where you get that range across the city).

If you're interested more in strong tornadoes than just any tornado, an alternate map (unfortunately in a different projection) is available from WikiPedia: tornadoes in the US, 1950–2013, plotted by midpoint, highest F-scale on top. That map gives you a vague idea approximately where you could see a tornado, and importantly, a strong tornado. In the version below, I've colored all major tornadoes (F3-F5) the same orange, as it's really unusual to see any of them. Denver doesn't look as good, but it's very hard to move away from the mountains and be in a dense tornado area.

Map of Tornado Points

If you're interested more in frequency of lightning, as opposed to tornadoes (say, for example, you wanted to photograph lightning), there's a map for that too. The most obvious thing comparing this map to the snow map is that the most lightning strikes are east of the heaviest snow -- so you can't always get what you want, as they say, although I'll point out that the Denver area, again, has an unusually high number of lightning strokes per square mile as any place in the orange!

Average Lightning Map

If you'd rather concentrate on days of thunderstorms," we have a map showing that, below. This map also shows a high area in Colorado.

Days of Thunderstorms Per Year

There's no "right" answer, of course; it really depends on which of the above is most important to you. If forced to choose, I still find myself still recommending Denver or somewhere in Colorado, with the understanding that heavy snow and tornadoes both occur within some reasonable proximity and an exact location to live can be chosen in either in the mountains or the flatlands. Reed Timmer is about to buy a cabin there so you can bet he agrees, but I'll take arguments in the comments.

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


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WeatherMatrix (Jesse Ferrell)