The other day I was speaking with my future brother in law about the fact that most people remember that there was more snow in the past than there is now. This is totally true for me because I moved from a part of the country with a lot of snow (NY and New England) to a part of the country with less snow (Minnesota). But for people who live in the same place they grew up how can this be possible? Is it really true?

Well, no it is not true. Your brain is fooling you on this one. Don’t believe me? Read about it here.


  1. #1 NewEnglandBob
    December 9, 2009

    We had to walk to school and back home. Two miles each way, up hill, both directions.

  2. #2 noel
    December 9, 2009

    Related topic: The climate change deniers keep conflating snow with cold. Obviously this is wrong, but it is especially wrong given that it can be too cold to snow, which implies that a negative correlation is possible. Houston just had the earliest snow on record, but it wasn’t actually that cold – about 35 degrees; three days later it was 75 degrees here! I bet we have a warmer than average winter in spite of the earliest snowfall.
    More on topic: I didn’t see snow until I was ten, but then it snowed four times in one year. It hasn’t snowed that much since. I wouldn’t say it was snowier back then, but that winter (1972, I think) sure was fun for us kids.

  3. #3 Stephanie Z
    December 9, 2009

    Bob, it was only one mile for me and only uphill in one direction. However, the downhill walk is much more dangerous in snow and ice.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    December 9, 2009

    it can be too cold to snow

    That is actually something of a fallacy.

  5. #5 6EQUJ5
    December 9, 2009

    In the early 60s, living south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I once saw snow before Labor Day and once saw snow after school let out in June.

    In the 70s in Pennsylvania, in Clearfield County, one morning was brutally cold. I called the ARSR radar station at 4:30 that morning to find it was 40 below zero with a 40 knot wind. That’s what impelled me to move to the Mojave Desert.

  6. #6 Beth
    December 9, 2009

    When I was very young, I thought this kind of thing. We had significant snows (snowy enough to make a decent snowman) when I was 2, 3, and 4… and then only one dusting in the four years after that. Then we got snows again until we moved. It can be a bit reasonable to say things like that in a place that doesn’t get snow every year because it could be that one’s childhood was filled with snowy years but there may not have been hardly any snow for many winters past. When I was 8, I could tell younger kids, “When I was little, we had snow!” and be perfectly correct.

  7. #7 MartyM
    December 9, 2009

    I believe it is true here in MO. Back in High School 9th grade science class we were asked to predict the first measurable snow of the year. I won that prediction with a Nov. 17th date. I can’t remember the last time it snowed at all in November here in MO. (I’ll see if I can find some data on that.) I also remember as a kid, an Aunt and Uncle visiting nearly each year for Thanksgiving and having snow around the holiday. Not anymore. This year we broke the record for the latest date of the first freeze. Nov 27. A record held since 1902. That alone doesn’t confirm warming, but it goes to show trend in the number of record highs vs. lows.

  8. #8 Eric Lund
    December 9, 2009

    I moved from Florida to New Hampshire, so of course I’m seeing more snow now than I did as a kid. But the last few years here have been snowier than the average of the 30-year benchmark period. Also, I regularly look at the seasonal degree day data for Concord (the nearest place to my house for which NWS tracks the data), and I have not seen a full season as cold as the average of the benchmark period–even last winter, which I think was the coldest of the last decade, was still warmer than the average.

    Depending on where you are, a warming climate may mean either less snow or more snow. On the margins of the snow belt, precipitation that would have been snow falls as rain because it’s warmer. For people well within the snow belts (that would include me), higher temperatures imply higher capacity for moisture in the atmosphere, and as long as temperatures are below freezing that moisture will fall as additional snow. (The “too cold to snow” myth is an exaggeration of the decrease in maximum water content as temperatures fall.)

  9. #9 SplendidMonkey
    December 9, 2009

    I think my memory of “more snow” in Minnesota is based on a single storm in March 1965, when I was little and really impressed by drifts you could make a fort inside.

  10. #10 Viking
    December 9, 2009

    RE: It can be too cold to snow – something of a fallacy

    Interesting… My experiences definitely would support the idea that it can be too cold to snow but I don’t have any meteorological knowledge to support that. Would it be correct to say “It is so cold that it is unlikely to snow”?

  11. #11 MartyM
    December 9, 2009

    I’m back with some data. Record total monthly snow fall:
    Nov 7.6″ 1926
    Dec 11.2″ 1973
    Jan 18.0″ 1995 (I was attending UMC during a major snow storm. I was the 1st day the university closed it’s campus in 18 years due to weather. I had my only class (Physics II) early that morning before the closing, so I didn’t miss any classes.)
    Feb 12.0″ 1945
    March 11.3″ 1937
    April 7.0″ 1980
    Oct trace amounts of snow fall all prior to 1980
    May trace amounts all prior to 1953

  12. #12 noel
    December 9, 2009

    More precisely: It tends to snow less when it is much colder than freezing. (Sheesh, you can’t get anything by these science bloggers.) The point is that snow is not a good proxy for temp. Antarctica, the coldest place on earth, is also the driest. A warmer winter could be snowier in some locals. What Eric said so well.

  13. #13 jadehawk
    December 9, 2009

    but see, I have proof!

    seriously, many of the Austrian ski resorts I used to go to as a kid are having problems with shortened seasons due to too early snowmelt and not enough snowfall

  14. #14 Jadehawk
    December 9, 2009

    That is actually something of a fallacy.

    it’s more of a generalization from a trend. after a certain point, it becomes less likely to snow the colder it gets. snow seems most likely around freezing point, but it rarely if ever snows at -20F; possibly due to lack of moisture in the air?

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    December 9, 2009

    Viking: In a given continental region not near mountains there is almost always a temperature range that is pretty narrow over which most snow falls, and below which it seems to never snow, or only lightly. But, that temperature range varies from place to place (and possibly a little across the season).

    So in one region it may be rare to see snow below about 0F, but in another region many of the biggest snow storms occur at very low temperatures.

    The total amount of water that air can hold is greater when the air is warmer, so if you sqeeze ALL of the water out of the air at 30F there will be more snow than if you sqeeze all the water out of the air at -10F. However, storms normally do not squeeze all the water out of the air, leaving some for down-wind.

    Near coastlines and in mountainous regions there are many more possibilities (typically) of combinations of moisture and air temperature, and clashing of air masses of various temperatures. I have seen two feet of snow fall in the Rockies between -15 and 0F, followed hours later by an equal size snow storm when it was around freezing, maybe a day later. The blizard we had this morning here in the upper midwest fell around 0F but the same storm is probably dumping at a warmer range in New England (and with moisture added from backwash from the sea).

    It’s very complicated…

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    December 9, 2009

    jadehawk: Our comments crossed in the mail. It is possible to make a general statement about the temperature range across which snow happens given a given system (though there will be variations) but in a different region, different parameters may apply. (see above)

    Also, I quickly add: The temperature of the air that you experience when it is snowing is NOT the temperature of the air that is holding the moisture. Snow means that the air is NOT holding the moisture, somewhere. (up above you most likely!) So if there is a -40F air mass and a +20F air mass colliding, and the +20 air mass is loaded with moisture, you can get a hell of a lot of snow falling into and through way way subfreezing air from the mixing zone above.

  17. #17 Jadehawk
    December 9, 2009

    So if there is a -40F air mass and a +20F air mass colliding, and the +20 air mass is loaded with moisture, you can get a hell of a lot of snow falling into and through way way subfreezing air from the mixing zone above.

    good point. i had blizzards explained as what happens when canadian air collides with mexican air over North Dakota :-p

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    December 9, 2009

    Antarctica, the coldest place on earth, is also the driest.

    Ah, but why??? The reason is not the cold, but rather, the fact that major air movement in the region involves air flowing aloft onto the continent and losing its moisture around the edges and at sea, the dropping more or less over the pole as it chills out in the dark thin atmosphere and all that, then rushing back towards the coast as a dense, dry, cold air mass. This is like the dry winds of the Sahara but between 100 and 200 degrees F colder, and very very dry.

    If Antarctica were not circumscribed by the sea so evenly and cleanly, there could be some funky air mass interaction happening and big huge snow storms in certain areas. Like in Greenland.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    December 9, 2009

    canadian air collides with mexican air over North Dakota

    That will do it!

  20. #20 DuWayne
    December 10, 2009

    Fucking Canuckistanian air, collaborating with that Mexican air that is trying to steal all those North Dakotan jobs!!!!!!! Curse you, Canuckistanian commie scum sucking air!!!! And Curse you, Illegal Mexican air!!!!!!!

    I bet if we erected a massive fucking bubble over the whole country, we could keep those dirty Canuck and illegal Mexican winds out for good!!! Who’s with me???? Don’t forget, we are probably even getting some of that commie Venezuelan air too!!!!! And Cuban too!!!!