Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Apple #505: Record Snowfalls

With the incredible amounts of snow that have blanketed all sorts of places across the country in the past couple of days, I got curious about snowfall records.  What are some of the records for snowfall, and how do those compare to the current situation?

So what location would you expect to be the snowiest place in the country?  Maybe Alaska, or maybe in the mountains?  You'd be correct.

According to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, the location that had the greatest amount of snowfall in one day was Georgetown, Colorado, on December 4, 1913.  They got 63 inches in one day.  That's 5.25 feet of snow.

Where Georgetown, CO is.  It's an old mining town outside of Denver, elevation 8,520 ft.  So, yeah, you'd expect this place to get some snow.
(Map from ePodunk)

The place that got the greatest daily snow depth -- that would be snow that's accumulated over some unspecified number of days, but it's continued to pile up -- was recorded by the Rainier Paradise Ranger Station in Washington. This is in the Mount Rainier National Park. They managed to get an accumulated 293 inches of snow.  Or nearly 25 feet.

The star marks the location of Mount Rainier National Park.  It's about a 3-hour drive from Mount St. Helens.
(Map from National Parked)

Mount Rainier, which is actually a volcano, is in the pretty much in the center of the park.  The Paradise Ranger Station is on the south side of the mountain.
(Map from Gorp)

Mount Rainier's elevation, as you can see, is over 14,000 feet.  The ranger station, quite a ways down from the top of the volcano, is at 5,550 feet.  The ranger station's average snowfall for December and January is between 105 and 175 inches (those are monthly totals). So yeah, another pretty snowy place.

The place that got the most amount of snow to fall over the course of a month is Tamarack, California, which got 313 inches of snow in the month of March in 1907.  That's more than 26 feet of snow.

Tamarack is a tiny place, so tiny I couldn't find a map that indicates it.  It's south of South Lake Tahoe and east of Sacramento.  It's in the Sierra mountains.
(Map from Always on Vacation)

The Central Sierra Snow Lab has an even bigger monthly record: 390 inches in Tamarack in January 1911.  I don't know why NOAA doesn't have that 1911 amount.  But Tamarack, high in the mountains, is another regularly snowy place.

The place that's racked up a ton of records is Thompson Pass, Alaska.

Here's Alaska.  The place we're interested in is on the peninsula that sticks out into the Prince William Sound, near Valdez.
(Map from Sarah Palin Truth Squad)

Thompson Pass is at the top of that peninsula, just northeast of Valdez.
(Map from Moon Travel Guides)

Their big records came in 1953 and 1955. They win for the following:
  • Greatest 2-day snowfall: 120.6 inches, December 30, 1955
  • Greatest 3-day snowfall: 147 inches, also December 30, 1955
  • Greatest 4-day snowfall: 163 inches, also December 30, 1955
  • Greatest 5-day snowfall: 175.4 inches, the next day, December 31, 1955
  • Greatest 6-day snowfall: 172.6 inches, February 24, 1953 (1953 beat 1955)
  • Greatest 7-day snowfall: 186.9 inches, February 25, 1953
  • Greatest snowfall August through July: 974.1 inches, 1953

So Thompson Pass, Alaska is another always-snowy place.

Let's put these numbers into perspective.  170 inches of snow is about 14 feet.  Some of those other records were for 25 and 26 feet.  But what does that much snow look like?

This is Jim. He's standing in front of a snow drift about 15 to 20 feet high.  This is at Crater Lake, Oregon.
(Photo from Fred and Hank Mark America)

This is the gift shop at Crater Lake, surrounded by snow, probably also somewhere between 15 and 20 feet.  As Jim from the above picture says, "Does this gift shop/cafe remind you of the Overlook Hotel or what?"
(Photo from Fred and Hank Mark America)

This photo along with a couple others showing construction equipment shoveling out snow have been getting passed around the internet for several years now. This is probably from Newfoundland or Labrador, in Canada. How much snow would you say is here, 12 feet? 15 feet?
(Photo from Snopes)

No idea where this is or how much snow is here. 20 feet or more?
(Photo from Gallary Photo)

Here's Chicago in 1967.  4 inches of snow were predicted, but they got 23 inches total instead.  It started snowing on a Thursday in January, kept it up all day, and continued until early Friday morning.  Two days before, the temperature had hit a record 65 degrees.

(I think these are Chicago Tribune photos, but I found them at PlanetBarberella)

(Photo from PlanetBarberella. She has tons more good ones at her site)

Now here's Chicago on February 2, 2011.  I can't seem to find any definitive snowfall amounts, but apparently various locations around the city are reporting anywhere from 20 to 24 inches.  The winds got up to 60 or 70 miles per hour at night, which made for lots of snow drifts.

This is roughly near Logan Square
(Photo from Avoision)

Liz is standing in thigh-deep in the snow.  There's an undefined amount of snow between the bottom of her feet and the ground, but probably if she'd been able to tunnel down that far, the snow would be to her waist.
(Photo from Avoision)

This is Milwaukee Avenue, normally super-busy.  Normally, there's no way people would be able to walk any distance in the middle of that street.  But today, because of all the snow, it's a completely different story.
(Photo from Avoision)

Now here's what two feet of snow looks like:

Har har.
(Snow sculpture by G. Lynas, photo sourced from Lorna Sass At Large)

Okay, so my whole point was, all those places that got record-holding amounts of snow were in places where you'd expect a ton of snow.  High in the mountains, or in Alaska.  Those places get 20+ feet of snow, while Chicago got 20+ inches. But I still find the amount that Chicago got to be impressive because Chicago is nowhere near any mountains.

That's what being close to the Great Lakes will do for you.

NOAA National Climatic Data Center, National Snowfall and Snow Depth Extremes Table
ePodunk Georgetown Community Profile
USA Today, Climate of Mount Rainier National Park, Wash.
National Park Service, Mount Rainier FAQs
The Storm King, Sierra Snowfall
Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Blizzard of 1967
National Examiner, Punxsutawney Phil and the Blizzard of 2011: Record snowfall in Chicago, Midwest, February 2, 2011

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