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Where is the snow?

If you love winter – or are just a weather observer in general – you’ve probably got a very pressing question: Where is all of the snow?

Some parts of southwest Virginia saw some this past weekend, but most of the state has yet to record even an inch of snowfall so far this winter.

“If you look at Blacksburg, Roanoke, Richmond, Norfolk and even Dulles up near D.C. – all of those locations have reported less than an inch of snow,” says Phil Hysell with the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg. “Which if the season ended today and we never saw another flake of snow would be historic in terms of record low snowfall totals.”

Hysell says it has been more than 390 days since Lynchburg recorded an inch of snow – the third-longest streak on record, which stretches back to the 1800’s for the Hill City.

So, what gives? While there are a number of factors, La Nina seems to be to blame. The global weather pattern causes the Polar Jet Stream to shift farther north – making it more difficult for cold air to reach this far south.

A depiction of the NAO. The teleconnection's negative mode is tied to cold and snowy conditions in Virginia.
National Centers for Environmental Information
A depiction of the NAO. The teleconnection's negative mode is tied to cold and snowy conditions in Virginia.

Hysell says the majority of La Nina winters have below normal snowfall totals. There have been some exceptions throughout history based on how strong the pattern is, though. This season has been kind of unusual in that the pattern hasn’t been as strong – meaning some cold air could potentially move further south. Another weather pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation – which is basically the strength of a high pressure system over Greenland – so far hasn’t really aligned for that to happen – save for the significant cold snap we saw back in December.

Hysell says you need three ingredients for snow – cold air, moisture and lift.

“This winter season, we’ve had the moisture and the lift, as most locations outside of Dulles have had near or above normal precipitation," he explains. "But we just haven’t been able to align the cold air when we have had the lift and moisture in place, and that’s resulted in the well below normal snow amounts this season.”

And he doesn’t have good news for snow lovers. Generally speaking, long-range models are showing above normal temperatures in the next three to four weeks and even into the next few months. However, Hysell says March has brought snow in previous years.

“You think of 1993 – we had the March 19th event that produced over 14 inches of snow in Roanoke. In Richmond, you think about the March 1st, 1980 event where they had over 10 inches of snow," Hysell says. "So, there have been periods in the past where we’ve seen some significant snows in March, so there’s still that potential there. But based on the signals we see in the long-range models, it doesn’t look promising for those who are looking for snow.”

Nevertheless, he says it’s important to always be ready for a snowstorm during the winter months. Warmer than normal temperatures also mean severe weather like thunderstorms or tornadoes could be right around the corner. Hysell stresses because of that – and really anytime – you should have multiple ways to receive warnings from the National Weather Service.

Nick Gilmore is a meteorologist, news producer and reporter/anchor for RADIO IQ.