Cold Weather Arrives, and Measurable Snow?

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Happy Thursday everyone, we’ve got quite a few things to talk about in regards to weather in the Mountain State in the coming days, including much colder weather that is right on our doorstep, as well as the possibility of snow.

First off, checking out the weather right out the doorstep, the sky is filled with a mixture of stratus and stratocumulus clouds. It looks like at least for the majority of the remainder to our Thursday, our area is going to be mostly covered with stratocumulus clouds, so expect a few more cloud breaks in the afternoon, especially west.

Stratocumulus clouds are reported at 11 a.m. here in central West Virginia.

Let’s also take a look at the latest surface analysis, shown below. We currently have a decaying cold front just to our west. There’s not much in the way of precipitation along this cold front (I use the color green to indicate likely areas of thick clouds, because grey is hard to see against white). However, by checking out temperatures behind the front being in the 20s compared to the mid 30s in our region at 11 a.m. it can easily be determined that there’s still yet some much colder weather right on our doorstep, as we will pick up a west/northwesterly breeze with the passage of this decaying front tonight.

Latest surface analysis, analyzed at 11 a.m. Thursday (click to zoom in)

Again, with the passage of this cold front, we’re really not expecting much in the way of precipitation today, other than perhaps a brief sprinkle (temperatures will remain above freezing until tonight). Looking at the current visible satellite, there appears to be quite a shield of stratus clouds hanging behind that front. If that shield of clouds can get past our are before midnight tonight, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see temperatures drop into the upper teens tonight with how dry this air mass is. However, I think the stratus clouds behind the front will help blanket our temperatures at least for tonight, and so I’m going with low 20s for our region for Thursday night.

For Friday, things are looking pretty quiet for our area, albeit cold. We have a system down to our south that is dropping some rainfall to portions of the southeast. That system will lift north on Friday, and could drop at least a couple of inches of snow in the mountains of North Carolina and southern Virginia. However, our area will remain dry. In fact, I think we’ll see a good bit of sunshine, but high temperatures will only make it around freezing with this cold air mass.

Saturday will also be mostly quiet, with temperatures moderating slightly into the upper 30s for high temperatures. However, as we head into the afternoon, we’ll see clouds begin to increase from the northwest, as our first wintertime Alberta clipper system appears primed to strike the region. Alberta clipper systems are known for quickly dropping a quick couple of inches when they drop in our area. However, though we almost certainly will see snow, accumulations looks pretty minimal with this system.

The best chance of snow will certainly be Saturday night into the early morning hours of Sunday. The bulk of snow associated with the system will strike Saturday night, and we’ll be left with an upslope snow through the morning hours of Sunday. Aside from a quick dusting from a heavier line of snow moving through, I expect the lowlands to not see much in the way of an accumulation. Even accumulations in the mountains won’t be superb. Areas east of US-19 can expect 1-2″ of snow at this point, and the higher peaks of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia can expect a general 3-5″ of snow. I’ll make a snowfall map with adjusted snowfall forecasts if the forecast changes at all between now and tomorrow.

Expect the best chance for snow Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday. The storm will not last long in our region (click to zoom).

Moving ahead, things look to remain pretty cold and active in our area. We’ll be talking about both in upcoming posts tomorrow and this weekend.

Does West Virginia Receive Less Snowfall than it Used to?

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I’ve heard this while walking around town quite a bit over the last couple of years: It’s stayed too warm, we don’t see snow like we used to here. Though some folks may not mind that, that got me to wondering, does West Virginia actually receive less snowfall than the state used to?

Is West Virginia seeing less snow than the state used to?

On average, Charleston receives about 36″ of snowfall during a year, while Elkins averages around 83″. However, both Charleston and Elkins have received well less than that average over the last 10 years.

The large snowfall difference between the two cities has a nearly direct correlation with elevation. During the winter months, it is very common for an upslope snow effect to take place on the mountaintops of the Appalachians. This effect takes place when moisture in the form of clouds from a source of water (usually the Great Lakes for our region) is pushed up over the mountaintops and condenses, causing snow to fall when temperatures are sufficiently cold. Upslope adds significantly to the average snow total of an affected town, and Elkins is certainly one of those affected.

Over the last fifty years, Charleston is averaging less snowfall than during any other period. During the ten-year period of 1977-1986, the city averaged just under 43″ of snow per year. This past decade, Charleston has averaged around 31″ – about a 25% drop. But this past decade also includes the top 2 lowest snowfall seasons ever, with only 7.5″ of snow falling in the 2016-2017 season, and only 11.7″ of snow falling in the 2011-2012 season (Note: Snowfall data from 1995-2005 is not available for Charleston or Elkins).

In Elkins, the town dropped from about 88″ of average snowfall during the ten-year span of 1987-1996, to only about 67″ in 2007-2016″, also about a 25% drop. The 2011-2012 snow season provided the lowest amount of snowfall during the 50 year span for Elkins, with only 30.6″ of snow falling.

Over the last 50 years, the 2016-2017 snow season provided the lowest number of days with measurable snowfall ever in Charleston, with only 8 days of measurable snowfall being recorded in Charleston in that winter season. That season is followed by the 2011-2012 season (12), the 2015-2016 season (17), the 2006-2007 season (17), and the 2005-2006 season (17) in Charleston.

The least number of days with measurable snow in Charleston and Elkins by season (1967-2016).

For Elkins, the 2011-2012 season provided the lowest number of days with measurable snowfall over the last fifty years, with 24 days, followed by the 2016-2017 season (25), 2014-2015 season (28), the 2015-2016 season (30), and the 2007-2008 season (32).

Though West Virginia is seeing less number of days with snow, the Mountain State still sees storms with heavy rainfall. This snow storm in January 2016 dropped over 18″ in many lowland spots, and up to 3 feet of snow in the highlands.

Despite the lowering number of days with measurable snowfall in West Virginia, there has not been a change in the number of significant snowfalls in the Mountain State. Charleston has consistently averaged 2-3 snow storms with at least 6 inches per year, and outside of this past snow season, that has not changed. In fact, the January 2016 snowstorm was the 6th heaviest snowfall on record in the capitol city, with over 18″ of snow falling. The December 2009 snow storm was the 10th heaviest snowfall on record in Charleston, with over 12 inches of snow taking place. In addition, Elkins has had two different snowstorms with at least 20 inches of snow over the past ten years, and 4 since 1994. The town has only 7 recorded snowfalls with at least 20 inches of snow in the town’s record.

Let’s also not forget Hurricane Sandy, which dropped record October snowfalls across the Mountain State in 2012. Mountain areas approached three feet of wet snow, which left tens of thousands of electric customers without power for several days.

Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 was a doozy for the majority of West Virginia, leading to power outages for tens of thousands of people due to the snow being very dense and wet type of snow.

Conclusion

Is there enough evidence to make the conclusion that our area is seeing less snowfall than in years past? There is certainly enough evidence to suggest that our area has generally received less snowfall over the last ten years in comparison to over the last fifty years.

West Virginia is seeing less days with snowfall in years past, which is leading to less snowfall totals. However, the state is not seeing less days with significant snowfall (greater than six inches). In fact, 4 of Elkins’ 7 snowstorms where the town received at least 20 inches of snow have occurred since 1994.

It is the days where towns in West Virginia are receiving less than six inches of snow that our area is seeing much less of. Particularly over the past three to four seasons, a good reason for that could be hypothesized as being the result of abnormally warm weather during the winter months.

The question that remains is whether this trend of less snow and less measurable snowfall days in our area will continue in the coming years.

Additional Data

More towns were analyzed for average snowfall changes in West Virginia over the last fifty years. Charleston, WV and Elkins, WV were used because both are used by superior airport equipment for optimal accuracy. However, average snowfall for Buckhannon, WV, Glenville, WV, Grantsville, WV, and Summersville Lake, WV were also analyzed. For towns near the US-33 corridor, lower snowfall totals occurred during the 1997-2006 span than any other ten-year span. This was also the case at Summersville Lake.

Snowfall over the last 50 years in Buckhannon, WV (No data from 1995-2005).

Snowfall over the last 50 years in Glenville, WV.

Snowfall over the last 50 years in Grantsville, WV.

Snowfall over the last 50 years at Summersville Lake, WV

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