Kind of a slow weather day right now so I figure that now is a good time to address a lot of the complaining that is taking place over the relative lack of winter weather lately. Everyone is frustrated with last winter and how this winter has started which is understandable. However this has caused several people on here to pine for the olden days when we get massive snowstorms and wintry weather all of the time. As someone who grew up in the 80's I knew this was a stretch or possibly absence making the heart grow fonder so I did some research. What I found confirmed my suspicion about winters in the Philly area.
Here is a list of every snowstorm that has brought a foot of snow to Philly (or as one poster put it - "real snowstorms") Ironically in our 130 years of tracking snowfall we have really only had 24 "real snowstorms" or roughly one every 5-6 years.
I then went a little further to get the frequency of storms by decade to see when the most big storms struck.
Clearly anyone around before the 60's would say that we are spoiled in general as we averaged one "real snowstorm" per decade through the 50's. Since then we have averaged three per decade. This includes the winters of the 70's that the older folks on here are so fond of. If you look specifically at the 70's you will see that we got 3 storms between 13 and 14 inches in a 13 month period in 1978-1979 and that was it for big snowstorms in that decade. The 1980's were dreadful. The 1990's had two amazing storms but really dreadful winters overall. Since then however we have been blessed (or cursed if you dig into the causes which I won't ) with pretty consistent winter weather. 5 of the top 11 winter storms in terms of snowfall have happened since 2003!!! That's absurdly significant from a statistical standpoint. We also had a 13 month period between 12/2009 and 1/2011 where we had 5 foot plus storms in Philly plus a 6th that brought over a foot to the suburbs. That is over 20% of the "real snowstorms" we have ever recorded in 13 months. If the cosmic price we pay for those two truly epic winters is a couple of duds we are still much luckier than any other generation of snow lovers this region has ever seen.
While we "suffer" through a down period right now please keep in mind how lucky we have been to track historic snowstorms in this area and hope that we can add to that history soon.
As you have shown with your date here Jbat, the BIG stroms have increased in historical terms and so have snowier winters; 1978 used to be number 1 on the snowiest winter list, only to be trumped by '96, then '2010. So, we have come to expect this to continue and have more frequent large snow events and possibly greater winter totals more often. However, as some have mentioned, winters of old have been colder than present and that is what bothers me. I really love snowstorms, but I enjoy them better when we are in a much colder environment and it sticks around a while and ples up. So, we have come to expect the BIG storms more often, because thay have been occurring more frequently, but miss the colder winters from the past. Thanks for compiling this info, it is enlightening and it really backs up what I have been thinking for a while now; that we are in a higher frequency of monster snowstroms and very snowy winters.
Hey thanks 78 Yanks! I was 3 when the 78 blizzard hit, and I don't really remember it. Based on what my mom and dad have told me, It has always held a place in my imagination as the storm by which all others are measured. I'll check out the links. Thanks again!
Click this link then save picture then view it in your picture folder it does get bigger and ledgible.
I am under the yellow 20"+ shade over here along the jersey coast. I want to say I had 24" I was 10 years old, a very good older brother type friend who is long gone now (RIP) made tunnels with me during this incredibly windy blizzard. I remember we were wearing ski goggles just so we could be outside otherwise you could not open your eyes due to the snow flakes cutting into you...
This is the best map totals breakdown I have found for this particular event.
1978 had several events over here, it was a very snowy winter with school closed a week. We had rain storms and very cold air at times. The Coastal jersey got a high amount of snow during the New england storm. I recall the drifts being big enough to build forts and tunnels. The wind blew very hard and snow on snow that year. Measurements were less areas recorded like today. Often the shore was under reported with accurate totals.
I would ask if you could find the temps. I wouldn't argue that we get bigger snows now(it makes sense with more warmth and moisture to work off of), but I certainly think the winters were colder back in the 70's(especially the late 70's and early 80's) and 80's. I don't have the stats, but if my memory serves me correctly they have upped the averages in 2010 to reflect the warmer winters of the 90's and 2000's. I just remember playing outdoor hockey frequently in the late 70's and early 80's versus the past 20 years.
Huge difference though is back then when it snowed it would stick around for awhile. I remember sledding almost all winter long some years. Now the snow is melted within a week of the storm. I would definitley take old winters compared to new ones.
Snowseeker, I actually have a spreadsheet with daily snowfall at KPHL since 1888 through last year. When I have some time to really get into it I'll do some annual totals and then the same thing for 6 inch storms.
78, you guys definitely had a few that aren't on here like February 25, 2010 where the North/Central Jersey coast people got destroyed and Philly got 5 inches. The frequency probably works out the same.
My question would be: how many inches did we receive each winter? Number of 12+ inch snowstorms is interesting data to look at, but it doesnt really paint the whole picture :). btw I'm not sure what the totals were, just thought it would be a good question to ask.
Nice post jbat. Puts it into perspective. All I really ask for is a few inches of snow I don't need 10-20 inch storm.. I just want a normal 3-6" storm around here.. We've missed SO many this year that its just compounded the frustration from last year. I'm not asking for HECS..just a SECS.
Great post. Thanks for the research and analysis. I do fondly remember the 60s, 70s, and 90s, particularly the 21.3 inches in February 1983, and of course the 30 inches in January 1996. Collectively, we still did better with snow totals between 1960 and 2010. Last year was a snow dud and a let down after the prior 10 years. You should consider reposting this blog every once in awhile. Yes, we are really, really spoiled.
Great blog, Jbat. Finally facts to debunk the myth that winters in the 70’s and 80’s were much more snowier than today. Before this blog, I would have been one of those people who swore that we received more snow in year’s past. However, can't argue with the facts. Hopefully the next 6-8 weeks we can at least get one of those bigger storms into our area.
Meteorological winter (when 95% of snow falls) runs from December 1st- March 1st, January 15th is the midway point between December 1st and march 1st. after March 1st, we average a significant snowfall about every 15-20 years, so we basically have till March first to get some snow around here.