Crozet Weather Almanac: Cold, Cold, Cold but Where is the Snow?

Chart courtesy Roscoe Shaw and Heidi Sonen

January was wickedly cold for a long stretch, but we had almost no snow. School was cancelled 20 times (slight exaggeration) but the monthly snow total added up to just one inch. How can this be?

We had a two-week period in early January where the temperature never went over 42 and the average was 22, but no snow fell. The temperature dropped to zero on January 7 and below 20 nearly every day. But the ground stayed brown.

Heidi and I like to say that snow in Virginia is a “random event.” When we get extremely cold, Canadian air dominates and not much falls from the sky. When we are warm, we get rain, not snow.

So, to get snow, we need luck to get just the right combination of moisture and cold air. The best way for that to happen here is for warm, moist ocean air from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to ride over the top of very cold, dry, Canadian air to the north and west. Contrasting air masses generate storms, and if the center of the storm passes to our east, we can get nailed with snow.

The best scenario is for a low pressure storm to develop rapidly over the warm Gulf Stream near the Carolina beaches. Warm moist ocean air gets thrown back into the dry, Canadian air and very heavy bands of snow can result.

This can only be forecasted a few days (or sometimes hours) in advance and certainly not in October when everyone starts asking us “Are we going to have a snowy winter?”

Our standard answer is “I dunno.”

During the winter of 2009-2010, the temperatures were a touch warmer than this year but over 50” of snow fell. Everything came together perfectly again and again. This year, so far, the timing has been off.

So the snowstorms are mostly just “luck.” Whether that is good luck or bad luck depends on your point of view. Dogs and kids love snow. Old people and cats hate snow. So, are you an old cat or a young dog?

The snowfall season is only about halfway over and February is our snowiest month, averaging 6 inches of snow a year. So maybe puppy dogs will still have their day.


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