Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States
Changnon, Stanley A.
Karl, Thomas R.
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A climatological analysis of snowstorms across the contiguous United States, based on data from 1222 weather stations with data during 1901–2001, defined the spatial and temporal features. The average annual incidence of events creating 15.2 cm or more in 1 or 2 days, which are termed as snowstorms, exhibits great spatial variability. The pattern is latitudinal across most of the eastern half of the United States, averaging 0.1 storm (1 storm per 10 years) in the Deep South, increasing to 2 storms along the Canadian border. This pattern is interrupted by higher averages downwind of the Great Lakes and in the Appalachian Mountains. In the western third of the United States where snow falls, lower-elevation sites average 0.1–2 storms per year, but averages are much higher in the Cascade Range and Rocky Mountains, where 5–30 storms occur per year. Most areas of the United States have had years without snowstorms, but the annual minima are 1 or more storms in high-elevation areas of the West and Northeast. The pattern of annual maxima of storms is similar to the average pattern. The temporal distribution of snowstorms exhibited wide fluctuations during 1901–2000, with downward 100-yr trends in the lower Midwest, South, and West Coast. Upward trends occurred in the upper Midwest, East, and Northeast, and the national trend for 1901–2000 was upward, corresponding to trends in strong cyclonic activity. The peak periods of storm activity in the United States occurred during 1911–20 and 1971–80, and the lowest frequency was in 1931–40. Snowstorms first occur in September in the Rockies, in October in the high plains, in November across most of the United States, and in December in the Deep South. The month with the season’s last storms is December in the South and then shifts northward, with April the last month of snowstorms across most of the United States. Storms occur as late as May and June in the Rockies and Cascades. Snowstorms are most frequent in December downwind of the Great Lakes, with the peak of activity in January for most other areas of the United States.