Thursday, February 16, 2006

Winter Wonderland?

Posted by Kirk
From my tree top office in the woods I can look out over the woods of Warner Nature Center and survey the sights. This past winter I watched toddlers scurry across the snowy back yard and approach the woods. A barrier stood in their way. An enormous wall of snow blocked their passage. They bravely climbed up to the top, and then slid down the other side.

I remember mountains of snow when I was a kid too. I remember snow forts and a magical winter wonderland called Minnesota. As an adult, and as a naturalist who teaches snowshoeing, I lament the lack of snow these days. Is there really a lack of snow though? To the toddlers, the three foot high snow bank left by our site manager's snowplow is enormous. It stands higher than their heads!

Last night I heard on the news that a nor'easter hit the eastern seaboard. It was so large it had an eye like a hurricane. It dropped upwards of three feet of snow. In the new winter storm scale it was a category three of a possible five. This is not Minnesota. We like to think of ourselves as a snowy winter wonderland but are we really just a cold winter wonderland?

I searched the records to be sure. I am a child of the 80s so I looked at the annual snowfall from 1981-1986. The totals were as follows:

81-82 95.0 inches
82-83 74.4 inches
83-84 98.4 inches
84-85 72.7 inches
85-86 69.5 inches

The same data for the past five years reads as follows

00-01- 75.8 inches
01-02 66 inches
02-03 35 inches
03-04 66.3 inches
04-05 25.5 inches

So, I'm not crazy and it wasn't just that I was a lot shorter back then. There was far more snow when I was a kid. The average for those five years at the beginning of the 80s was 82 inches. That's 6.83 feet per year. The average for the past five years has only been 53.72 inches or 4.47 feet per year.

Now, here's the bad news. If you total all the snow data for the past 122 years you find that the annual average snowfall is only 45.8 inches for the twin cities. That's right, three of the past five winters have been above average. The normal total snowfall is only 3.8 feet and keep in mind that that is snowfall, not how much snow actually sticks around.

Total Snowfall this winter as of today: 24 inches.