We won! Well, I consider it a win as we beat some stiff competition and placed better than most would expect.
- Luray snowfall 10/29/11 Courtesy: Lisa Pence
We won! Well, I consider it a win as we beat some stiff competition and placed better than most would expect all thanks to Dulles International Airport and our unusually early Nor’easter.
While chatting about snow on twitter a few weeks ago, I placed a friendly bet with a fellow meteorologist in Minneapolis as to who’d get the first measureable snowfall in our respective metro areas. I won as Dulles (IAD) measured a whopping 0.6” of snow on October 29th. Upon further review, I was curious as to which other cities we beat to the first measureable snowfall. This includes cities that are much farther north and traditionally colder and snowier than the D.C. area. I’m a snow lover, so to me it’s a race, and the winner is the first to receive 0.1 inches or more of accumulation, so just for fun I sifted through the data, and my unscientific results were impressive.
In order to simplify the process, I only considered weather reporting stations near the same latitude (38.96N) or farther north of Dulles and stations that issue preliminary monthly climatological data or what the National Weather Service considers a CF6 form. This includes all major cities and many regional airports across the nation. For example, these sites in the D.C. area include Reagan National Airport, Dulles, BWI, Martinsburg, Charlottesville, Hagerstown and the MD Science Center at the Inner Harbor.
After going through a few hundred CF-6 forms, I found that only a handful of reporting sites farther north beat us, and they have a lot more working in their favor. Sixteen sites beat us to the punch and most only by a few days. Not to mention twelve are situated 3,500 ft or higher, or what I consider cheating! This includes Casper, WY (5,348 ft) and Colorado Springs, CO (6,201 ft) to name a few. Anyway, Dulles beat such cold-core cities as Bismarck, Fargo, Duluth, Minneapolis, Marquette, Bangor, Detroit, Missoula, and Buffalo just to name a few. If I were to use elevation and latitude as the benchmark for comparison, only three of the sixteen cities that beat Dulles had elevation similar to or within a few hundred feet of Dulles (290 ft). And they were all in New England, so they should get measureable snow before us in the D.C. area.
It’s important to note that measurable snow likely fell in between some of the weather stations I looked at, but I simply don’t have the time to research the records for every square inch of the U.S. Going through the simple CF6 forms took several hours as is. Also, we need to keep in mind that a few cities well to our south beat us. For example, Amarillo, TX (35.23N) got 3.1 inches on October 27th, however, Amarillo averages 17.8 inches per year compared to Dulles’ annual average of 22.0 inches. Amarillo gets more snow than most of us would assume.
Lastly, this has no bearing on whether or not we will have a snowy winter. It’s simply just a win for the underdog when it comes to beating others to the first taste of winter. Though keep in mind my perspective as I am a snow lover. I do understand that some would consider this a loss rather than a win. Here’s Doug Hill’s winter weather outlook.