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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 02/27/2008

Are We in a Snow "Drought?"

By Matt Ross

As we sit at only 4.9 inches of snow for the season, many snow lovers are likely wondering the same thing: When are we going to get another good winter? While the past several winters haven't been awful for snow lovers, they haven't been a bumper crop either.

This winter will make five in a row with below-average snowfall (barring a March surprise). While it is a snow drought of sorts, this isn't anything terribly unusual. In fact, since snow recordkeeping began in 1888, we've had four distinct periods with at least seven consecutive winters of less than 20 inches of snow. (The historical annual average for D.C. is 18.1", but only just over 16" since the official reporting station moved to National Airport in 1941.)

How does the current snow drought stack up to those of the past?


1924-25: 18.5"
1925-26: 17.4"
1926-27: 2.3"
1927-28: 11.1"
1928-29: 7.5"
1929-30: 18.1"
1930-31: 2.5"
1931-32: 5.0"

Length: 8 winters
Average Snow: 10.3"


1948-49: 15.8"
1949-50: 3.4"
1950-51: 10.2"
1951-52: 10.2"
1952-53: 8.3"
1953-54: 18.0"
1954-55: 6.6"
1955-56: 11.3"
1956-57: 14.2"

Length: 9 winters
Average Snow: 10.9"


1968-69: 9.1"
1969-70: 14.0"
1970-71: 11.7"
1971-72: 16.8"
1972-73: 0.1"
1973-74: 16.7"
1974-75: 12.8"
1975-76: 2.2"
1976-77: 11.1"

Length: 9 winters
Average Snow: 10.5"


1988-89: 5.7"
1989-90: 15.3"
1990-91: 8.1"
1991-92: 6.6"
1992-93: 11.7"
1993-94: 13.2"
1994-95: 10.1"

Length: 7 winters
Average Snow: 10.1"

2003 - Present

2003-04: 12.4"
2004-05: 12.5"
2005-06: 13.6"
2006-07: 9.5"
2007-08: 4.9" to date

Length: 5 years so far
Average Snow (subject to change): 10.6"

There are probably numerous factors contributing to the current snow drought, and I doubt we have all the answers. What do you think is the culprit? ... Natural cycle? ... Climate change? I am not sure myself, other than it is likely a combination of factors. However, I am reassured that such a drought is not unprecedented, even if I have to suffer through a few more paltry winters before it's over.

By Matt Ross  | February 27, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Local Climate  
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The following is a "teaser" of what in full will appear in the Jan/Feb issue of the DC-AMS Chapter Newsletter available later this week (

Welcome to winter, but "where's the beef", i.e., snow! It's been a roller coaster as far as temperature is concerned, but what relatively small amount of precipitation has fallen in the immediate Metro area has been mostly in the form of rain or, at best, mixed rain, snow, sleet - the whole shebang. As emphasized by Paul Kocin at the first of two January Chapter meetings, being a snow lover in these parts requires patience almost beyond endurance and his advice, "keep your expectations low and you'll have fun." For me at least that's easier said than done, and in response to this Paul, no doubt, would say, "get a life". Well, as the political candidates these days like to say ad nauseum, "keep hope alive", or something close to that effect, at least through March. And, remember the refrain from a John McCutcheon album,"...Nothing takes longer than waiting for snow..." (see Nov/Dec Newsletter).

Posted by: Steve Tracton | February 27, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

The 68-77 low snow years made the Washington's Birthday storm of 79 seem even bigger. Especially to a kid, like me, that was born in 65 and never knew the 'normal' snowfall amounts.

And, wow, 0.1" in 72-73. Was there a bad drought that year, or was it just unusually warm?

Posted by: wiredog | February 27, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

i miss snow!

Posted by: madison | February 27, 2008 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Matt for posting this very revealing info., which I have also attempted in the past in another format, but your's really drives the point home.

This should help to alleviate the fears of some who seem to believe that the sky is falling, we will never have another snowy winter, climate change(global warming) has taken control of the agenda,it will never snow again, we don't have winters like we used to! etc. etc.

Regarding climate change. Though it may be a short term aberration, we have actually witnessed global cooling during the past 12 months. Irregardless, warming during the past century is very small compared to necessary values to dictate whether rain or snow falls. Atmospheric patterns that control storm tracks make this determination over any given area.

We don't have winters like we used to?? Yes folks we do! The snowfall patterns of recent years are very similar to 35,55,or 80 years ago!

Finally, during the past several days, many on this site have been speculating about snowstorm potential around March 4 - 10. Sure, I have been watching this potential with the GFS and other models and data, but have commented very little because of a persistent and repeating unreliability of model data this winter, even in the medium range beyond 3-4 days.

There are current trends that suggest the likelihood of a stormy and cold first half of March, but speculating about any given storm predicted beyond 100 hrs. seems to be nothing more than a shot in the dark, at least this winter. And remember, precip. potential vs. reality usually fails on the low side this winter as the drought pattern persists. I pray that this stormy pattern verifies whether in the form of rain or snow, because of our almost desperate need of copius amounts of moisture before evaporational rates soar in the spring.

Snowlovers, keep your fingers crossed, but be prepared to be disappointed.

Posted by: Augusta Jim | February 27, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Wiredog....72-73 was a strong El Nino not unlike 97-98, though not as strong....Typically we do bad snow wise in strong Ninos, though as always there are exceptions...i.e. 82-83.....

Posted by: Matt, Capital Weather Gang | February 27, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Just three years ago the Potomac River was frozen enough at Edwards Ferry to allow people to walk out onto the river. All is not lost.

Posted by: JT | February 27, 2008 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Nice work, Matt.

One thing stands out. Look at the beginning year of each snow drought:
and note the time period between the beginning of one snow drought and the beginning of the next. The gaps are 24, 20, 20, and 15. It seems that the current snow drought began a little early.

What does this mean? How the hell should I know? I'm just a weather weenie like the rest of you.

Posted by: NoVaSnow | February 27, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I'd be curious to see what the average snowfall for our area is OUTSIDE of drought years.

Posted by: Kalorama Park | February 27, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Kalorama....would be just shy of 22" in non-"drought" periods...

Posted by: Matt, Capital Weather Gang | February 27, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

March 5th


Posted by: Joe Smoe | February 27, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse

March 5th


my bad, link above was wrong, try this one:

Posted by: Joe Smoe | February 27, 2008 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Joe Smoe, thank you for that little giggle. I have gone rapidly downhill healthwise since I woke up this morning, so I'm probably one of the lucky folks with that nasty shanghai brisbaine yabba dabba doo flu or whatever it's called. FUN...not. So, thank you for giving me that little laugh - I needed it.

If the storm of the century hits us in DC on March 5th I will never ever EVER do anything weather related again, not want to go to college to be a meteorologist, never watch the weather again, and devote my entire life to the waste management industry.


Posted by: weatherdudeVA (Lake Ridge) | February 27, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

quit posting you have been warned. IT IS NOT GOING TO SNOW WINTER IS OVER.

Posted by: josh | February 27, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Those numbers, to me, don't show that this current snow drought is "normal" at all.

Not once in any of those other droughts did D.C. go 5 years in a row without reaching 14"

Oh, and how can '93 be so low? That was the year where Loudoun County got 27" from one storm. And yes, that storm was in March.

Posted by: Ken | February 27, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Yes, those strong Nino winters (72/73, 97/98) were definitely the pits!

Problem here is that we haven't had "La Nada" neutral conditions in YEARS. Evidently that's what we need for a snow jackpot in D.C.!

Posted by: El Bombo | February 27, 2008 4:28 PM | Report abuse

josh (along with Ivan) is also a card-carrying member of the VATechBob Club...

Posted by: Anonymous | February 27, 2008 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I have already given up on snow for this winter and whats worse iv`e given up for the winter of 08-09 and its not even here yet.Have a great day all love this site.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 27, 2008 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Iv`e given up on this winter and whats really bad is iv`e already given up on the winter of 08-09 and its not even here yet.Have a great day all.Love this site.

Posted by: mike | February 27, 2008 7:43 PM | Report abuse

No, I'm a realist. It's over, folks.

Posted by: Ivan | February 27, 2008 9:38 PM | Report abuse

The long and variable historical record serves to highlight how silly the notion is that 'average snowfall' should somehow be expected each year and if it/s not and it it doesn/t for a few years...then it/s a 'drought' even though drought is defined as a prolonged period of dry weather with abnormally low _rainfall_.

Posted by: TQ | February 27, 2008 10:15 PM | Report abuse

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