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Dave Epstein

Where has all the snow been?

The atmosphere hasn’t provided southern New England with much snow this winter.
The atmosphere hasn’t provided southern New England with much snow this winter.(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File)

Back in November, many areas saw their first measurable snowfall, with several spots receiving between 4 and 8 inches of snow. Since that November snowstorm, the atmosphere hasn’t provided southern New England with much snow. We are looking at one of the slowest snow starts recorded since 1872, when record-keeping began in Boston.

It’s a winter drought of sorts

It’s reasonable to call this a snow drought. This doesn’t mean we’re in a drought like we would be if it didn’t rain for two months, but because it hasn’t snowed typically this season, we are in what we can consider a major deficit.

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You might be wondering when this will all change. The answer is, as you can predict, we’re not 100 percent sure. The atmosphere is extremely complicated and has a mind of its own, but there are signs that things will at least become more conducive to snow and cold late next week and into early February.

It is stormy somewhere. New England is missing a moderate-to-major snowstorm in Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas through Sunday.

New England is missing a moderate-to-major snowstorm in Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas through Sunday.
New England is missing a moderate-to-major snowstorm in Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas through Sunday.(NOAA)

Since December, the storm track has either been too far north or too far south, and when we have had precipitation, it’s just been too warm for snow. One of the big components of this warmth has been a strong jet stream over the Pacific, but that is about to undergo a bit of a new configuration.

The strong jet stream over the Pacific will weaken in the coming week and help instigate a change in our weather. (Tropical Tidbits)

More consistent cold possible

This change in the jet stream should allow larger shots of arctic air to penetrate into the United States, and at the same time, some moisture might interact with that cold.

In order for us to get a snowstorm, we need not only the precipitation but the cold air to be entrenched. When we have had cold air this winter, it’s been dry.

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The chart below shows average snowfall to this point in winter compared with this year and 1995-1996, when there was already more than 5 feet of snow. On the right, I am listing all the years with low snow through all of January. Things like this do happen.

We all remember the slow start to winter back in 2014 and 2015 and what happened after that, but that type of anomaly is incredibly unlikely to happen again, not only this year, but for decades. Much of weather forecasting is about odds, and the odds of us having a lot of snow the rest of the winter are not very high. This doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but if you were betting on what’s going to happen the rest of the winter, you should probably wager on less-than-average snowfall by the end.

Storms possibly coming

The GFS model is quite bullish on several potential storms late next weekend and beyond, but the model has been performing poorly, and snow lovers shouldn’t get too excited about this until we are much closer — three or four days before any predicted storm.

The GFS is forecasting active weather for the second part of January. (Tropical Tidbits)

What is typical?

Let’s say we do get through the rest of January with less-than-average snow. February often brings 10 to 15 inches of snow, and March brings about 7 to 12 inches, so we could still have significant wintry weather in terms of shoveling and effects on work. The odds of this being an above-normal snow year are quickly slipping away.

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There will be building arctic air moving south over the next two to three weeks, so we’ll probably have several days where the temperature stays in the teens and twenties, and nights will be in the single digits or perhaps even below zero.

The outlook for the third week of January brings the coldest air into the middle of the country.
The outlook for the third week of January brings the coldest air into the middle of the country.(NOAA)

The core of the cold will, at first, head into the middle of the country, not the Northeast. Eventually, it may affect us here in New England in a bigger way. Unless we do see snow cover, however, the cold will tend not to be very prolonged. Bare ground heats up faster and tends to not allow for extended arctic outbreaks.

The bottom line is that it has never snowed fewer than 9 inches in Boston for a winter, and this year won’t break that record. It’s going to snow, and you will need to shovel. With six weeks of meteorological winter done, however, this isn’t going to be a prolonged winter.


Follow Dave Epstein on Twitter @growingwisdom.