Sunday, December 28, 2014

Snow: A measure of history

Despite two dud seasons, an amazing era for local snowfalls.

Snow: A measure of history

Snow measurement, as we’ve noted, is far more art than science, and the official measurements for Philadelphia historically have been especially problematical, given all the stations moves and the utter impracticality of measuring snow at a major airport.

With those caveats, we will observe that if you’re a fan of significant snowstorms, you are living around here in the right era.

With the official 9 inches reported this morning at Philadelphia International Airport, this becomes the fourth winter of the last six with two snowfalls of 8 inches or more – at least officially.

Climatologists are circumspect about throwing around a term such as “new normal,” so for now we will just state that the recent trend represents an extraordinary development.

Scanning the records, we see three 8-plus snowfalls for the 1909-10, 1957-58, 1960-61, 1966-67, and 1977-78 seasons, followed by a 31-year drought of Crazy 8s until the winter of 2008-09.

At the time we speculated that the robust totals had something to do with the new observation system. Here is our article on that occasion.

As the story relates, Philadelphia's snow is measured in National Park, Gloucester County, 3 miles from the old site, by a human observer.

The change was made for complicated reasons but the basic one was this: Snow totals were coming from the roof of a terminal building, "a pretty atrocious way to measure snow," as Gary Szatkowski, head of the weather service's regional office in Mount Holly, said at the time.

In any event, even with two dud years, the last several seasons have constituted quite an era for local snowfall.

Tony Wood Inquirer Weather Columnist
About this blog

Everyone talks about the weather, and here we write about it.

When we’re around and conditions warrant, we’ll keep you updated about what’s coming, but we will do our best always to discuss weather and climate developments in context and remind you that nothing in the atmosphere happens in a vacuum.

Tony Wood has been writing about the atmosphere for The Inquirer for 26 years.

Reach Tony at twood@phillynews.com.

Tony Wood Inquirer Weather Columnist
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