Richmond “snow-drought”; some perspective

Some perspective is in order regarding our recent (several-year) lack of significant snowfall.  A BIG thanks to Larry Brown (climate expert with the NWS Wakefield) for providing the following facts and insights.  In summary, here’s the deal: 

Richmond historical snowfall data is from RIC airport since 1930, and from Chimborazo Park from 1897-1929.  There have been many long-term spells of relative snow-drought during the data period.  Notably, the decade of the 1920s with avg annual of 7.5″, and the 1990s with 7.0″.  Even more notable, though,  is the 30-year average from 1921-1950… just 10.6″,  that even counting the record-breaking snow season of 1940. 

The heavy snow period that many folks fondly remember from their youth is the 15-year span from the late ’50s to early ’70s.  The 1960s average was a remarkable 24.1″ !  That time period is what helped drive our long-term average numbers way up versus the much lower figures from the ’20s through ’50s.  Bottom line; big extremes, often lasting for a decade and longer, are the norm.

When you look at so-called “expected” snowfall,  it may therefore be more accurate to consider the median snowfall instead of the average, since a relatively small number of heavy-snow seasons tend to skew the average way up.  Over the historical record period, that median number is 10.9″.

Posted by Jim Duncan


33 Responses to Richmond “snow-drought”; some perspective

  1. trashout business…

    […]Richmond “snow-drought”; some perspective « NBC12 Weather Blog[…]…

  2. Im only 17 and the only snow i remember is when i was about 7 and it was knee deep since then their has been no real big snows to remember in the last 10 years……praying for a snow day soon

  3. A deceptive falcon says:

    Jim Duncan is the snow-devil, I have never seen someone with such apathy and monotony of voice abbout his job: which only requires picking snow, rain, sunny, or cloudy from a hat. But he is not as annoying at Tim Duncan at least

  4. Disco Dave says:

    If you guys love chatting online about weather, come over to Tons of pro mets that analyze the new weather models as they are coming out. Tons of regional threads. Come at your own risk. It’s very addictive.

  5. jake says:

    DC, you are making this too easy! I’ve stuided weather since I was a kid and have taken courses at universities as well. You obviously just know how to look things up on the web after the fact. Sorry, that’s not intelligence. That’s having Comcast. The reason I said you know nothing about weather is because you asked if it was hail or sleet…..and you thought it was sleeting at your house when the temperature was warm and you were having a thunderstorm. If you knew anything about weather, you would know that sleet doesn’t happen in thunderstorms, hail does. Get a life, loser!

  6. DC says:

    …but here you go Jake, just in case you wanted to make it appear that you’re informed the next time you try to assume I know nothing about weather when it comes to hail vs. sleet.

    Hail falls mainly in the summer and mid to late Spring. Hail forms in thunderstorm clouds which can extend very high into the atmosphere where extremely cold temperatures exist. When clouds release rain, the rain can be forced upward where it freezes into tiny ice pellets. If the updraft continues, layer upon layer of frozen water will be added to the pellet until it falls to the ground as a “hailstone”. The size of the hailstone will depend upon the severity of the thunderstorm and the length of the updraft.
    Hail is different from sleet since sleet is formed after being released from a cloud versus hail which is formed inside of a cloud. So when people tell you it’s hailing outside in the winter, chances are very good it is sleet and not hail.

  7. DC says:

    For the record Jakey….hail and sleet are different. Sorry bud…you should read more, if that’s possible. Again, have a good new year! Try to make “intelligence” your New Year’s resolution OK buddy? Haha. You’re too easy. Maybe you should just stop posting and making yourself look bad. I’m done with you now…I need more of an intellectual challenge, and you’re more like a dull conversation with a 3 year old about your belly button.

  8. Mike says:

    What is the word on Tues? They said flurries possible then rain……….Is this the same thing that we always get or is there a better chance for some snow?

  9. J-Reid says:

    so that would be in a week? where do u find this kind of stuff anyways if u dont mind me asking?

  10. Gray says:



  11. jr .g says:

    son of a ? we actually got right at 1 inch of snow this morning in the waynesboro/ afton mt. area, in a snow squall that lasted for only about 13- 15 min. i have to admit that was the most intense falling snow i have ever seen. too bad it didnt last for 2 or 3 hours at that rate we would have had between 8 and 12 inches . but it was nice to at least see some snow.

  12. Mike K says:

    The last 5 years (03 – 08) the avg snowfall was 4.5 inch at RIC airport! Check the link below. From 1957 – 1972 EVERY year RIC airport had at least a FOOT of snow or more! I want that pattern to come back!

  13. J-Reid says:

    yeah it was hail.. hence the severe thunderstorm warnings earlier yesterday. I thought it was sleet myself until i looked closely and realized that it was way too big in diamater to be sleet! wacky weather…….. hopefully it all adds up to a killer snowstorm

  14. bobby_r says:

    Hey JR G. Yep, you got it. I’m a bit older than you.. I grew up in the magnificent snowy 60’s…boy do I have great memories of that period in my life..We didn’t wonder if it was going to snow. We would often have snow on the ground and then get a snow of top of that snow before it melted, which is much like you experience in the mountains, or should I say use too? I want to say around 65 or 66 is when we had, I think 3 snows one right after the other. We accually had snow drift fences in the Richmond area, in the counties like Hanover, noth and west. We use to have deep cold weather where the ponds would freeze thick enough that you could go ice skating.

    I don’t keep the logs like I use too. Believe it or not I’m usually too busy working. My wife is about to kill me because as soon as I get home I get on the computer to respond to emails and look at this blog. Like you I got interested in the weather when I was very young. I don’t have any interest in forecasting it but I do get deep into studing weather statistics all over the country. What really peaked my interest was when I started flying. As yor probably know, as a pilot you must learn a lot about the weather and you must gather all possible weather weather infomation before I file and just before I depart and while enroute. There is so much that people don’t don’t understand about weather systems and what is going on above our heads. You are probably like me, I look at the 850 MB, 700 MB and 500 MB pressure altitudes frequently. The temerature at the 850 MB and 700 MB altitudes is what often determines what kind of precipitation may be at the surface. I’m mostly concerned, when flying, with icing, if it’s raining at the surface when the temp. is 32 or colded we both know that the temp above is above freezing. We also no that that tempereture profile can go above freezing for a few thousand feet and then below freezing and then back above freezing until it will finally stay below freezing. Of course it is always below freezing from flight level 240 (24,000) and up. Enough said. I work all over the state and California as well.

  15. jake says:

    That proves it – DC knows nothing about weather!

  16. james says:

    Think positive – only a little more than 71 days until the 1st day of Spring!! Until then, look forward to a couple of ‘decent’ snowstorms (> 4 inches).

  17. DC says:

    Hail or sleet? It was sleeting here in the West End.

  18. h says:

    Just out of curiosity, if all of this wet precipitation were snow, how much would it have been?

  19. Mary says:

    I live in Amelia, and it’s hailing here also, go figure!

  20. J-Reid says:

    I know this has nothing to do with snow drought but i live in powhatan and it just started HAILING!!!!! talking about some crazy January weather!!!

  21. Mike says:

    I am only 29 years old, however I remember even when I was little in Springfield VA there was a good snow fall at least once a year. When I moved to Richmond in 1998 We had a couple snow storms, but after about 2000, it just seems to be tropical storms but no snow. I love snow, and I agree with the earlier posting that there is something about the human condition where snow can break the boredom of winter. It really urks me when Vegas, and just about every point south of us INCLUDING Louisianna have gotten snow but we have not!!!!!!!

  22. Brandon says:

    I’d be interested in seeing what the average is for the last 5 years. I bet it is ~2″

  23. Judy says:

    Back in the 60’s and late 70’s I lived in the mountains of southern west virginia. The snows came around often and they were way deep. I can remember struggling to get through knee deep snows (no I wasn’t that short either). There are alot of fond memories of romping in the snow,snowball fights and sledding with my family and friends.Today they still have snow but not alot of it like it was back then. I just wish that kids around the area could have a few of those memories in their memory banks one day too. I still keep hoping and believing that we will see some “good snow”.. but I think any of it is good.. even in small quantities. I will keep watching for snow and listening for Jim to spread the good news that snow is on it’s way! I never give up on snow. Many of us have seen very warn days with snow the day after. So… Yes Virginia, there is hope! 🙂

  24. jr. g says:

    bobby-r,, you sound like a weather freak like myself. im a old mt boy up here around afton. i started studing weather when i was 8 and started keeping a daily record of precip in 1989 when i was 12. i think we need to get together someday and have a cold brew or 2 or 3 and discuss meteorology and weather history ! LOL

  25. d says:

    Although the information above is insightful, it certain doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me feel worse. I’m sorry, but if the median is 10.9, that makes me feel no better as we haven’t been close to that in years and it’s all but 1 inch below the avg of 12 inches. Also, if you are considering the 20s a drought with an avg snowfall of 7.5 inches per year, then what the heck is this? We haven’t even had that total over 5 years! We are not in a snow drought, we are in the snow desert.

  26. h says:

    If Mother Nature is bound to balance us out, then we must be getting a monster storm to make up for the MANY years virtually without. A 10.9″ average? I don’t remember when we had 5″ or even 2″ in a single storm in the last eight years or so. My 8 year old has no memory of what a snowstorm really is. I had to take him to the mountains so that he could stomp around in pre-made snow. Ridiculous.
    In my 22 years of being in this city, there seemed to be a consistent pattern of a few years “on” and a few years “off” before the year 2000. Despite actual statistics, I still perceive the climate to be imbalanced and often disappointing. (Two or three years ago, there was a funny snow dusting in APRIL, when no one wanted it.) This “drought” is getting ridiculous. Soon there will be alligators in the James.
    Depression is the right word. There is something about a snowstorm that I simply NEED to get thru the WInter. I take it personally when I hear about those who celebrate a lack of snow. Poo, poo on you!
    I’ve always trusted Jim Duncan and I have look forward to him bringing that snow shovel in the studio to show the viewers. Such confidence! Thank you Jim for also being honest, however disappointing, and for attempting to cheer us up with wisdom about Mother Nature and her long-term plans. I hope that you are right, even ‘tho it’s crazy to think that my teenagers have memories of snow, but my younger kids (11 and 8) do not.

  27. snowman says:

    check out this site for home snow machines as well.

  28. snowman says:

    I’ve got snow at my house.. Lots of it. Oh wait I made it.. hehe check out My kids love this thing. Looks like lots of cold weather by thursday to make tons more!!

  29. Sue says:

    I remember the late 60’s and early 70’s snowstorms. That’s why every year I look for snow. I’m finally starting to realize we may not have snow anymore or nothing significant anyway. Thanks News12, I consider your readings on the weather pretty accurate.

  30. bobby_r says:

    Being the fact finder that I am I did some research into the snowfall drought, let me say the I researched the claim made in this blog about there being a snow drought in cities only a few miles North of Richmond. This suppose it drought is not completely true. In fact it’s not any where near a long term drought. It’s true that those locations were short on snow last year but the snow drought is no where akin to a snow drought, as stated by some. This is not intended to pick on anyone. I’m only reporting what is recorded by the NWS for these cities. This is only to set the record straight. My wife calls me the point man. She says she is going to have put on my tombstone, “Do you get the point.” So on with the point.

    I only researched back to the winter of 2003-04 for Philadelphia and Baltimore. Washington DC had more in-depth information readily available but it is likely that for the years before 2003-04 that Baltimore and Philly likely had reasonable snowfall totals near the same or slightly more than reported in DC. Once again the facts tell a little different story.

    Philadelphia, PA Average yearly snowfall, 19.3”
    2007-2008, 6.3”; 2006-07, 13.4; 2005-06, 19.5; 2003-2004, 30.4”
    This 4 year average is 17.4”, only slightly under the 30 average. So far for the snowfall season of 2008-09 Philly is short by only 1.9”, the season is still early.

    Baltimore, MD, Average yearly snowfall, 18.2”
    2007-08, 8.5”; 2006-07, 11.0”; 2005-06, 19.6; 2004-05, 14.15
    The 4 year average is 13.3”. No drought here either.

    Washington, DC, Average yearly snowfall, 15.2”
    2007-08, 4.9”; 2006-07, 9.5”; 2005-06, 13.6”; 2004-05, 12.5”; 2003-04, 12.4”;
    2002-03, 40.4”; 2001-02, 3.2”; 2000-01, 7.4”; 1999-00, 15.4”; 1998-99, 11.6”;
    1997-98, 0.1”; 1996-97, 6.7; 1995-96, 46.0”
    The 13 year average is 14.13”. When using the same 4 year period the average is 10.12”. No drought here either. Look at 1995-96 and 2002-03 and then look at 1997-98 and 2001-02.

    For those that don’t seem to understand normal/average you can see that the longer the period the more that the numbers come in line with the 30 year average. You can see that Philly and Baltimore are short on there 30 year average but when only a 4 year average is used it can be, of course, above or below average, depending on the snowfall for that 4 year period. With this particular 4 year period you can see the large fluctuation in snowfall amounts from one year to the next. I could have had different 4 year period where snowfall amounts would have been way above average. When you look at Washington DC you can see that there was only had one period, during this 13 year period, 1999-2000, that snowfall was almost on the money average. (This is another reason why Jim says that the weather is seldom average.) Washington had one period, 1997-98, where there was only 0.1” of snow. Sound familiar? In spite of the only 0.1” of snow for that period they had 46.0” of snow two years earlier. Hmmm, isn’t that interesting? This is just a small example of why Jim consistently says that mother-nature has of way of balancing things out. You can go all over the country and find the same thing. In the long haul the weather will balance itself to the average. Eventually Richmond, Virginia will have a few years that the snow will fall abundantly, by Richmond standards. Will it happen this year? Nobody knows. The season is still young and based on Richmond’s past Richmond is just getting into its best chance of significant snow. With only a 12” yearly snowfall average all it takes is one good snow storm to put us near or even far above the average. All we can do is continue to wait. Jim and I have said it before, “The weather functions mostly to one side or the other of average but seldom average.”

    Bobby R.

  31. Lew says:

    I guess there’s nothing that we can do but be depressed and angry about it….but hopefully, in the future, we’ll have another run of snow like back in the late 50’s to early 70’s. To me, and i’m by no means a meteorologist, but with the way the Southern Jet stream is flowing these days, i don’t see how we will ever get another MAJOR snowstorm until it starts flowing further south. I know that most of our major storms come from forming down in the Gulf, or along the Eastern Shore, which allows ample cold air to filter in….and with the way things are now, every system seems to be rolling right up the Ohio Valley, and we’ll never get snow out of a system like that…and the Nor’Easters may bring an occasional Inch or Two, but that’s about all you can hope for out of them. So, until that Jet Stream heads DUE SOUTH, i have no choice but to be realistic, and accept the fact that NO SNOWSTORMS are heading our way anytime soon. I can remember when i was younger, and watching the Weather Forecasts, and during some winters, you could just follow that Jet Stream, and seeing storms developing, and then gaining strength down in the Gulf, and then it was just a matter of how much cold air would be in place, and which way the storm was going to track because of it…..NOW, we don’t even have the luxury of a POSSIBLE STORM these days….i mean, there’s hardly anything ever to get excited about…it just sucks. It’s one thing to miss out on the threat of a snowstorm, but we don’t even get get threats anymore. Nothing to even get excited about the whole winter. I use to hate being let down when a storm was predicted and then didn’t come….but heck, i’d even take A THREAT OF A SNOWSTORM nowadays….i wouldn’t even be mad if a Meteorologist lied, and said a storm was coming, just to have something to get excited about.

    I swear, i’m not even going to know how to act when or IF we ever do indeed have another Snowstorm….and i definitely won’t believe it, until i actually see it!!!!!!

    All in all….it’s just been way too long…..RICHMOND NEEDS A SNOWSTORM….even a little 4-6″ storm would feel like hitting the lottery around here! I can’t even dream about what a 12′ + snowstorm would be like.

  32. Don says:

    Even with a 10.9″ median if you added the last 3 years together we wouldn’t even be close to that. I suppose I am just glad that my 2 yeare old got to see some snow in Pittsburgh over the holiday since we seem to be in a rut here.

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