Editorial: A Century Of Snow

WHAT’S UP WITH SNOW? Five years ago I set out to address that in an OTM editorial with help from Ronald Miller, local expert from the National Weather Service. Were winters getting stronger or weaker in the Spokane area? Were anecdotal tales of “lots more snow when I was a kid” really true? Mr. Miller hipped me to the fact that our most common measure of winter, Total Inches of Snowfall, is just one of four important ways to measure. The other three are; Average Snow Depth, Snow Depth Total (cumulative daily snow depth), Number of Days with Snow Depth Greater Than One Inch. When I examined all of these stats for the past 100 years all four were trending down in 2005. Five years and some record snowfall later I wondered if this was still true.

Mr. Miller gave me updated stats and I graphed them out. Reliable information in the Spokane area for all four measurements starts in 1892. The granddaddy of all Snow Depth Average years was the winter of 68’-69’ where the average day had a whopping 10.1 inches of snow on the ground. For comparison the recent record-setting winter of 08’-09’, which had more total snow, also had more total melting because it’s Snow Depth Average was only 3.4 inches a day. The winter of 68’-69’ also holds the record for Snow Depth Total at 1,529 inches. While the winter with the most days of Snow Depth Greater Than One Inch is surprisingly 2000-2001 with 117 such days. By comparison the record-setting winter of 08’-09’ only had 76 days with one inch or more, making it only the 19th most severe winter in this regard.

One of the most unusual aspects of the 08’-09’ winter is not it’s record snowfall, but the fact that it occurred on the heels of another very strong winter, that of 07’-08.’ In the past 120 years, with only a handful of exceptions, very strong winters have been followed by weak winters. The winter of 08’-09’ is still the champ for Total Snowfall at 93.8 inches. And Total Snowfall is the only trend—according to my layman analysis—that could be considered possibly trending up since 2005. All three other measurements peaked by the end of the last century and are now trending down. My conclusion is still the same as before; if you love snow get out and enjoy it while it’s here.

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