Editorial: Are Winters Getting Less Snowy?

“WHEN I WAS GROWING UP IN SPOKANE we almost always had 90 days with snow on the ground.” I’ve heard myself say this a thousand times. It often elicits an anecdotal affirmation from longtime residents-but is it true? Are the winters here really milder now than they were during my formative years? Say between 1974 and 1984?

I called Ron Miller at the National Weather Service Spokane office. Mr. Miller emailed me a torrent of raw data on Spokane snowfall dating back to 1893. I wanted to look at snowfall data because temperature data doesn’t correlate to recreation opportunities unless all you do is ice fish. Miller give me four different ways to analyze snowfall during the winter months of November through March: 1) Number of days with snowdepth of one inch or more; 2) Total snowfall; 3) Total snow depth/days (height of each snow depth day added together); and 4) Average snow depth for the winter.

For my less-than-scientific survey I compared winters in the years of 1974-1984 to the recent winters of 1996-2005-and guess what? By each measurement the 1996-2005 winters are milder snow-wise.

The older winters averaged 46.8″ of total snowfall, where the recent winters have averaged 41.1.” The older winters had average snow depth of 2.3″ where the recent winters average only 1.4″ in total snow depth. And the recent winters had over 140 inches less of total snow depth/days, meaning there were fewer days of deep snow.

But the winters of the past ten years have averaged 50 days with one inch or more of snow on the ground, whereas the 70s and 80s winters had an average of 52 days. Only four years that I looked at, ’78, ’84, 96′ and 2000 had winters with 90 days or more of snow on the ground. So much for anecdotes.

“Every decade the average snowfall in Spokane has decreased,” Miller says. “It’s depressing.” The bright side? If you like to bike in winter, like I do, recent winters allow you more cycling and still give you a chance to hit good snow in the mountains. Also, you have less of an excuse NOT to go skiing. If the region gets a bunch of good snow, damn the torpedoes! Grab your gear and go. You don’t know if that powder will be there next week.

Jon B. Snyder, Editor-in-chief


Go to http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/otx/ to check out Ron Miller’s excellent recap of the regions 2006 weather.

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