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Your back is probably feeling pretty good this holiday season – no shoveling! No one around southern New England has had to use one once this month. Outside of a couple snow showers, that’s all she wrote in the snow department since our mid-November snowfall. Now New Englanders have long memories. We still go about storm preparation based on experiences during the Blizzard of ’78 (BREAD AND MILK). So naturally, every slow start to winter will now bring fears about a 2015 redux. Is that supported by the observations? Will the old New England tradition of expecting payback ring true?
The South Boston snow farm in February of 2015.
For starters, let’s take a walk down memory lane. Was it a wicked slow start to the season that year? You bet. Through January 1st Boston had only seen 2.9″ of snow. It ticked up slowly in January until the blitz began. And then we saw the most epic stretch of snowfall the region has ever recorded. How much of a circus act was that stretch? The top *23* snowiest 30-day periods ever recorded in Boston were during it. The 24th snowiest month-long period was a full 3 feet below the top spot (in 1978). That late January to late February period was snowier than every single full winter on record in Boston except 1995-96. This is a way of saying there is a pretty good chance you won’t see that much snow in that short amount of time again in your lifetime. It was an extreme outlier. That’s not to say we can’t rip off a solid month of 40″+ snowfall, but expecting to see a repeat to that magnitude anytime soon would be a very large surprise. #JINX
So maybe we have alleviated some of the mental baggage with that winter. Maybe. Let’s take a peek at how the vast majority of slow starts transpire.
It was our least snowy December since 2011 in Boston. Graphic: WBZ-TV
To date, Boston has recorded 0.2″ of snow. There are lots of complaints out there about the measurement on November 15th. There was about 2″ of snow on the ground for a time that evening, but the 1am observation at Logan came in at 0.1″ I live in Boston and can tell you it was slushy out when I got home at midnight and raining, and that there was essentially nothing left when I woke up in the morning. So there wasn’t much at 1am. But there may have been more than 0.1″. So my disclaimer here is that I did a lot of stat searching based on 2″ of snow or less through December, to account for perhaps some more actual snow so far this season than was measured.
A slow start is not entirely uncommon in Boston. We’ve had less than 2″ of snow at the start of a new year 23 times on record, dating back to 1891 (or 18% of the time). Is there a relationship between such a small amount of snow through the start of January and the rest of the winter? You better believe it, and a strong one at that. Every single one of those winters saw below average snowfall except 2, which were within an inch or so of average.
Not only are a lot of them quiet winters, but they almost read like a ‘who’s who’ of dud snow seasons in the Boston area. 15 of those 23 are in the bottom quartile in the historical record.
There have been nine years with 0.2″ of snow or less through December. Of those nine, all the subsequent winters had at or below average snowfall. Graphic: WBZ-TV
Okay, so let’s play a game going forward. Looking at our forecast out through next weekend (the 5th/6th), there is little to no chance of any snow in Boston. We know that surprises can jump out at us in short range this time of year, but let’s just roll with it for the purpose of this exercise. Let’s say we’re still sitting at less than 2″ through January 10th in Boston.
Has this happened before? You bet. Nine times, to be exact. And this is where it really starts to get brutal for snow lovers. Of those nine years, here are the snow totals for the entire winter season:
So in that group, you’ve got four of the Top 10 least snowy winters on record, plus a couple others in the Top 25. All below average. Woof.
As for some other odds and ends, you may be wondering what the longest wait on record is for 1″ of snowfall for the season. That was set in 2007, when we didn’t pass 1″ of snow in Boston until January 22nd. The years that didn’t feature 1″ of snow through January 10th were 2016, 2007, 2000, and 1928.
What’s the point of all this? Well naturally, a lot of people are wondering if the quiet start means anything. In the past, yes it does. But the past is not a guarantee of future performance. What we’re saying is that a season this slow through early January almost always ends up with a less snowy winter than our typical fare. And if we buck the trend this winter (certainly possible…only takes a couple good storms!) it will be the first time on record that it has happened. We’ve set a lot of records over the past year, so don’t count out a comeback later in January through March. There’s a first time for everything.