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Where's the snow? Winter so far turns map upside down

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 1/26/2022 Jake Sojda

Plenty of chances for snow have come and gone so far this winter, but the wealth of snow has certainly not been spread evenly. As of Jan. 25, 2022, some cities in the central and eastern United States have seen their fair share, with near or above-normal snowfall, while other locales, some just a short distance away, are lagging well behind. Some of the usual cities near the top of the snowfall charts are nowhere to be found so far this year, giving way for some other unusual names to join the list.

Ahead of a huge winter storm that will sweep into the Northeast and change some of the numbers, AccuWeather meteorologists break down some of the surprising stats of where snow has and has not made frequent visits this season.

Seasonal Snowfall As of 1/26 © Provided by AccuWeather Seasonal Snowfall As of 1/26

Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, along with Erie, Pennsylvania, are usually similar in terms of blockbuster winter snowfall totals. All three average close to or around 100 inches of snow every winter. However, only one of those cities is even close to on pace this season. Buffalo has tallied 60.4 inches of snow so far this season, compared to an average of 55.9 inches normally by this time in January. Both Syracuse and Erie are at about 35 inches, nearly 30 inches below average up to this point in the season.

"Clipper systems, which often bring a general accumulating snow across the Great Lakes, followed by bursts of lake-effect snow, have been fewer than typical earlier this winter," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "By mid-January, this changed, with Arctic air driving southeastward and more clippers bringing more snow and lake-effect opportunities for the interior Northeast. However, the average wind flow thus far has favored Buffalo getting heavier lake-effect snow than Syracuse and Erie so far."

These cities in the eastern Great Lakes aren't alone in the oddities over short distances. Atlantic City, New Jersey, has picked up 17.2 inches of snow so far this season. Meanwhile, just 50 miles away in Philadelphia, only 4.6 inches of snow has been tallied this season. Typically, the relatively mild ocean waters would keep snow totals lower at coastal locations than inland places. Although by today, Philadelphia should have had 9.3 inches and Atlantic City 8 inches, by the end of the average winter season, that disparity increases with 19.3 and 13.5 inches, respectively.

Seasonal Snowfall Departure As of 1/26 © Provided by AccuWeather Seasonal Snowfall Departure As of 1/26

Farther south, Washington, D.C., is on pace to have one of its snowiest winters in years, having recorded 12.1 inches already. Just two years ago, during the winter of 2019-2020, D.C. recorded its third-least-snowiest winter on record, tallying just 0.6 of an inch over the entire season. This winter, D.C. is on pace to rival some of the snowier winters of 2013 to 2016.

Part of the reason for this has been a shift this winter in the large-scale storm track. "The pattern in the jet stream, which is an area of fast-moving winds in the upper portions of the atmosphere that helps direct weather systems, has largely prevented storms that form over the South from turning northward along the mid-Atlantic so far this winter," Sosnowski said.

This pattern has also brought snow much farther south than just Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Nashville, Tennessee, has picked up 9.3 inches of snow so far this season, well above the normal 2 inches for this time in January, and in fact, surpassing the city's average of 8.4 inches for an entire season.

Even more surprising to residents of "Music City" might be that Nashville has been snowier this winter than many major cities in the Midwest and Northeast. New York City; Columbus, Ohio; and Springfield, Illinois; are all behind Nashville's seasonal snow total so far this winter along with places farther to the west, like Kansas City, Missouri; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and even Pierre, South Dakota.

Snowfall through 1/26/2022 © Provided by AccuWeather Snowfall through 1/26/2022
A map showing snowfall across the continental U.S. from Sep. 30, 2021, to Jan. 26, 2022. (NOAA)

Some parts of the Midwest are in the midst of an impressive snow drought. Indianapolis has received only 1.2 inches of snow this winter, compared to an average of 14.5 inches. Columbia, South Carolina, has received more snow than Indianapolis, thanks to the 2 inches measured there on Jan. 21.

"Because the jet stream has been situated farther south than usual during much of January, Arctic air has also been allowed to make more frequent trips to the Southern states and deliver heavy snow to more areas that don't typically receive very much," Sosnowski said. Even Little Rock, Arkansas, and Birmingham, Alabama, have seen a coating of snow so far this winter.

While many more cities are running a big deficit than those seeing unusually high departures from normal for snowfall, the story of a snow drought is not true everywhere. Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota, are both running ahead of schedule with 15 and 10.7 inches more than normal, and Sault Saint Marie, Michigan, is nearly 20 inches above normal for this time of year.

January may come to a close with many still asking, "Where's the snow?" - but winter is still far from over, and undoubtedly there will be more winter storms to get through and more chances to erase snow droughts and deficits before putting a wrap on the 2021-2022 winter totals.

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