National Snow & Ice - Annual 2014


NCDC transitioned to the nClimDiv dataset on Thursday, March 13, 2014. This was coincident with the release of the February 2014 monthly monitoring report. For details on this transition, please visit our public FTP site and our U.S. Climate Divisional Database site.


The 2013/14 winter season (December 2013–February 2014) was cooler and drier than average for the contiguous United States and ranked as the 33rd coldest and 17th driest winter on record. For the December-February period, below-average temperatures were observed in the eastern U.S., with much-below average temperatures in the Midwest. The West, especially the Southwest, was warmer than average. California had its warmest winter on record. Much of the northern U.S., stretching from the Northern Rockies, through the Upper Midwest, Ohio Valley, and into the Northeast was wetter than average. Below-average precipitation was observed from the West, through the Southwest, and into the Central and Southern Plains. Arizona, California, and New Mexico each had a top 10 dry winter season. Several winter storms in the East during the season contributed to the cool and wet season, while the lack of precipitation and the warm temperatures in the West contributed to the much below-average snow pack in mountain locations, exacerbating long-term drought conditions.

US Winter snow extent anomalies
Contiguous U.S. Winter Snow Cover Extent Anomalies
Data Source: Rutgers Global Snow Lab

According to the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, for the winter season (December 2013–February 2014), the snow cover extent (SCE) for the contiguous U.S. was 1.42 million square miles, which was 170,000 square miles above the 1981-2010 average. This marked the 10th largest seasonal SCE in the 1966-present period of record, and the largest since the winter of 2010/11. The above-average seasonal SCE consisted of the eighth largest December SCE, 16th smallest January SCE, and ninth largest February SCE. For the spring season (March–May), the contiguous U.S. snow cover extent was 28,000 square miles above the 1981-2010 average, ranking as the 21st largest (28th smallest) spring snow cover extent on record. Each of the spring months had near-average SCE. Later in the year, in November, much cooler than average conditions across the eastern two-thirds of the nation were associated with a record large snow cover extent for the month. The monthly snow cover extent across the lower-48 during November was 876,000 square miles, 400,000 square miles above the 1981-2010 average. Conversely, Alaska was much warmer than average, resulting in the 5th smallest November snow cover extent.

Western US Snowpack 1 May 2014
Western U.S. Snowpack
April 1, 2014
Source: USDA

Winter and spring mountain snowpack provide a crucial water source across much of the western United States. The total annual water budget for agriculture and human use in the mountainous West is highly dependent on the amount of snow melt that will occur in spring and is proportional to the amount of snow on the ground. The annual snowpack typically reaches its maximum value at the end of March. According to data from the USDA, on April 1st, above-average snow pack was observed across the Northern and Central Rockies. Some locations across Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado had snow pack totals greater than 180 percent of average. Near-average snow pack was observed in the northern Cascades and parts of the Great Basin. Below-average snow pack was observed across the Southern Cascades, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and into the Southern Rockies. Many locations across these regions had snowpack totals less than 25 percent of average. In Alaska, near-average snow pack was observed across central parts of the state with below-average snowpack in southern areas.

Select Significant Events

January 3 Snowcover
Satellite Image of Northeast Snow January 3, 2014
Source: NOAA's NNVL

On January 2nd through 3rd, a low pressure system and cold font moving through the Midwest and into the Northeast interacted with another low pressure off the Mid-Atlantic coast to bring heavy snowfall through the Midwest, parts of the Southeast, and the Northeast. Snowfall totals approaching a foot were widespread across the regions impacted with nearly two feet of snow across parts of coastal New England. The storm caused numerous disruptions to the impacted regions including closed schools, roads, and over 2,000 flight cancellations. Behind the storm system, cold Arctic air moved into the eastern two-thirds of the contiguous U.S., breaking daily temperature records. Temperatures as much as 30 degrees below normal impacted a large area of the nation, with temperatures dipping to levels not experienced for several years. Although numerous daily cold temperature records were broken, only one long-term weather station set a new all-time cold temperature record. The temperature in Aroostook, Maine dropped to -49.0 °F, breaking its previous all-time cold temperature record of -47.0°F set on January 11, 1995.

From January 5th to 7th, another storm system brought heavy snow to the central and eastern U.S. with a reinforcing shot of cold Arctic Air. A low pressure system and associated cold front moved from the Mississippi River Valley, into the Ohio Valley, and eventually into the Northeast and brought snow, cold temperatures, and strong winds. Wind chill advisories, watches, and warnings were issued by the National Weather Service for the Northern Plains, Midwest, Great Lakes, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast. Snowfall totals over one foot were observed from Missouri to Michigan, with snowfall totals approaching six inches widespread from Oklahoma through the Tennessee River Valley and into the Northeast. Freezing rain and sleet fell across much of the Mid-Atlantic region. Wind Chill values reached -60°F across the Northern Plains, Midwest, and Northeast, surpassing the cold air outbreak from a few days prior, marking the coldest apparent temperatures (combination of wind and temperature) for many locations in as many as 20 years. All-time temperature records were broken for cities in Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina. The snow, freezing rain, and bitter cold had numerous impacts including school closures, power outages, thousands of flight cancellations, and traffic accidents including fatal accidents. Most government offices in the Washington, D.C., area were closed.

January 30 snowdepth
Southeast Snow Depth January 30, 2014
Source: National Weather Service

A winter moved through storm the Southeast on January 28th through 30th. A low pressure system moved from the Gulf Coast through the Southeast, and off the Mid-Atlantic coast, bringing snow, sleet, and freezing rain to the Southeast. Several inches of snow accumulated from Louisiana to Virginia. Southeastern Virginia was the hardest hit, in terms of total snow accumulation, with 10 inches of snow around the Virginia Beach area. One inch of snow fell as far south as Pensacola, Florida. The winter weather and limited supply of snow-clearing equipment in the region caused massive travel disruptions. Impacts were likely the greatest in the Atlanta metro area, where two inches of snow fell while tens of thousands of motorist attempted to leave work in the early afternoon as the storm hit. Thousands of cars were abandoned on highways around the city, complicating traffic congestion. School buses that became trapped were forced to return and thousands of students had to sleep at their schools. Thousands of homes also lost power as frigid temperatures moved into the region following the snow event.

Feb
11-14 February snow accumulations

On February 11th, a low pressure system moved from the Gulf of Mexico into the Southeast. The storm moved into a very cold air mass, causing widespread wintry precipitation as it moved from the Southeast and along the East Coast into the Northeast through February 14th. In the Southeast, heavy snow was reported along the northern edge of the storm, with over a foot of snow reported in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. To the south, freezing rain accumulated in Georgia, South Carolina, and eastern North Carolina. Freezing rain and ice accumulations greater than 1.0 inch were widespread causing massive power outages. As the storm moved into the Northeast, it strengthened, bringing over two feet of snow across parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Examining only the snow's impacts on population, the storm was rated at Category 3, or major winter storm, on the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS). The storm caused massive interruptions along the East Coast, with several governors in the Southeast declaring a state of emergency. Many southeastern cities received the most snow and/or ice in over a decade. At least 21 fatalities were blamed on the storm and approximately 700,000 homes lost power, with half of those being in South Carolina and Georgia alone. Thousands of flights were cancelled as the storm moved into the densely populated Northeast corridor.

Feb 5 Great Lakes Ice Concentration
Satellite image of 28 February West Coast storm
Source: NOAA's NNvl

From February 26th through March 3rd, a powerful Pacific storm slammed into the West Coast, bringing hurricane force winds, heavy snowfall, and flooding rains. The storm eventually moved across the country, bringing heavy snow the Mid-Atlantic region the first week of March. In California, the precipitation was a welcomed sight. The state had been dealing with record dry conditions over the past year with drought engulfing almost the entire state. While this storm did bring heavy precipitation to California, large long-term precipitation deficits persisted. Impressive snowfall totals, measured in feet, were observed across the high terrain of California. Volcanic Knob measured 48 inches of snow. Heavy rainfall was also observed across California, with locations in the central part of the state receiving over 12 inches of rain. Big Bear Lake, in Southern California, had a wind gust of 102 mph. Rainfall totals across Southern California were over two inches, with many locations, including Los Angeles, receiving the most single-storm rainfall in nearly three years. The combination of recently charred lands due to wildfires and drought with the heavy rain caused landslide threats across Southern California with numerous neighborhoods being evacuated as a precaution. The heavy precipitation only marginally improved long-term drought conditions across the state, with locations in the central and northern regions still needing over 18 inches of precipitation in the next three months to end the current drought.

March 31 Snowfall totals
March 31 snowfall totals
Source: NOAA's National Weather Service

On the last day of March, a strong low pressure system brought blizzard conditions to a large portion of the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, with blizzard warnings issues for much of the Dakotas and parts of Minnesota. Snowfall totals greater than 10 inches were widespread across Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, and Minnesota. Twenty inches of snow was observed in Grafton, North Dakota. The storm also brought strong winds, approaching hurricane strength. Wind gusts over 60 mph were reported in parts of Nebraska and South Dakota. The combination of strong winds and heavy snow resulted in visibilities as low as 10 feet. Whiteout conditions prompted the closure of Interstates 29 and 94. Ahead of the snow, thunderstorms were observed. In western Minnesota, a weak tornado touched down early in the day on the 31st, with blizzard conditions reported in the same location a few hours later.

3-4 April Snowfall Totals
Colorado 11-13 May Snowfall Totals
Source: NWS

From May 11th to 13th a late-season snow storm impacted the Central Rockies and Front Range, bringing widespread heavy snow. A Pacific low pressure system pushed inland, across the Central Rockies, as a colder air mass was moving in from Canada. The largest snow totals occurred across the highest elevations. Over 40 inches of snow was observed in parts of Wyoming, with over 30 inches occurring at several locations in Colorado. Parts of the Denver metro area received over five inches of snow. Snowfall totals broke several daily records. The 12.0 inches that fell in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was the heaviest single-day snowfall this late in the season. It should be noted that snow totals over six inches have been reported several times in June in Cheyenne. Snow was also observed in parts of Utah, New Mexico, and Nebraska. The largest impacts from the event were snapping trees and highway closures. Approximately 17,000 homes lost power, while much of Interstate 80 was closed for up to 24 hours across Wyoming. The snow on the ground was short lived, with warmer conditions moving into the region shortly after the storm.

17-19 Nov. New York Snowfall
17-19 Nov. New York Snowfall
Source: NWS

Between November 17th and 21st, two lake effect snow events impacted the Buffalo, New York region. The first event occurred on the 17th through 19th. As a low pressure system moved through the region, southwesterly winds set up across Lake Erie. Air temperatures were several degrees below freezing, but the lake temperature was around 48°F, which was slightly below average for this time of year. The contrast in temperatures between the strong winds and water caused a lake effect snow band to set up just south of downtown Buffalo. The snow band was approximately 20 miles in width and produced snowfall rates greater than six inches per hour. Winds in excess of 40 miles per hour were reported, causing blizzard conditions where snow was observed. The band of snow was narrow enough that locations just miles apart had significantly different snow accumulations. Lancaster, New York received 63 inches of snow, while the Buffalo airport just four miles away received 6.2 inches. Several locations south and east of Buffalo received over 60 inches of snow in 24 hours, potentially breaking the New York State record for 24-hour snowfall total (pending review by the State Climate Extremes Committee). Just a few days later, a second lake effect snow event set up in the same location. This event didn't drop as much snowfall in singular locations because the wind direction varied slightly during the event causing the heavy snowfall to fall over a larger spatial area. Wales Center, New York received 49 inches of snow from this specific event. When the snow totals from the two events are combined, several locations to the south and east of Buffalo had snow totals approaching 80 inches. A few days after the event, the temperature in Buffalo soared, reaching 65°F on the 24th. The warm temperatures were accompanied by rain, causing a significant amount of the snow to rapidly melt, resulting in widespread flooding in the region. During the entire event, there were 13 reported fatalities, with hundreds of major roof collapses and structural failures. The strong winds and heavy snow also caused numerous power outages in the impacted areas.

Citing This Report

NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: National Snow & Ice for Annual 2014, published online December 2014, retrieved on January 25, 2015 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/snow/.