Now that Spring has arrived, it’s time for a look back at the 2022-23 winter season and some of the weather records it set. Despite ranking as the third warmest winter season on record, it still managed to produce some potent winter storms – providing fresh evidence that snow is still a force to be reckoned with here in New England, even as the region’s climate warms.
The ferocity and damage caused by some of these recent winter storms may be a harbinger of more snowy winters to come. In fact, some of our snowiest winters on record, dating back some 130 years, have come since the turn of the 21st century. See the top 10 snowiest winter rankings later in this post.
For an excellent video presentation on how global warming is displacing the polar jet stream and bringing more extreme cold and snowfall to mid-latitude regions like ours, click here.
All of this means that snow is still an important factor to consider when outfitting your home with solar power. Solar panels, after all, only work when they’re not covered with snow!
Our Solaflect Trackers are designed to shed snow quickly and easily, and maximize power generation even after big winter storms. Fixed-panel arrays that are roof- or ground-mounted, on the other hand, lose up to 15% of their annual power output as they wait for snow to melt, slide off, or get dug out of their static arrays.
2022-23 Winter Redux
The latest big winter storm to hit New England on March 13-15 was a classic Nor’Easter – and the first to strike the Northeast all winter season. Up to 3 feet of snow fell in eastern New York, western Massachusetts and southern Vermont and New Hampshire, with the highest snowfall total of 42.1 inches recorded near Readsboro, Vermont.
Wet, heavy snow – accompanied by some 55-mph wind gusts – caused 267,000 electricity customers to lose power in New York and New England, according to PowerOutage.us.
At least a foot of fresh snow blanketed most of New Hampshire and Vermont as of Tuesday, March 14. This prompted more than 50 New Hampshire towns to postpone their municipal elections, which had been scheduled for that Tuesday, according to the secretary of state’s office.
This late-season snowstorm was a fitting bookend to two other major winter storms that struck just before Christmas. As of Dec. 23, downed trees and power lines knocked out service to more than 150,000 utility customers in New Hampshire and Vermont. Green Mountain Power said damage to its transmission lines from those consecutive storms was some of the most intense in the company’s history.
Since then, FEMA has certified nearly $6 million in program-eligible costs for disaster relief in both New Hampshire and Vermont. Damage to transmission lines from these early-winter storms wiped out many utility budgets for maintenance and repairs. This federal aid will help defray increases in local electricity rates as utilities seek to recover these costs.
New England’s Snowfall Totals Are on the Rise
For further perspective, it’s worth going over the weather records for Vermont and New Hampshire dating back to 1892. While average annual temperatures in northern New England have gone up more than 5 degrees F since then, it has not yet diminished Mother Nature’s capacity to drop lots of snow in one storm, or even over the course of a winter season.
On the contrary, rising air temperatures as a result of global warming enable the atmosphere to hold more moisture before being wrung out in these storms – much like a bathroom steams up after a hot shower. As long as the air temperature stays below freezing, water molecules will remain in the form of snowflakes as they fall from the sky, piling up faster than ever.
Take, for example, winter snowfall totals for nearby Burlington, Vermont. The Queen City did not measure any winter seasons with more than 100 inches of snowfall until 1965-66. Then, starting in 1969-70, Burlington recorded three consecutive winters with more than 100 inches of snow. The 1970-71 winter season, at 145.4 inches, remains its snowiest winter on record.
Even more notable, five of Burlington’s snowiest winter seasons have occurred since the turn of the 21st century, including its second-, third- and fourth-snowiest winters on record. Burlington has also had 100-inch-plus winter snowfall totals as recently as 2018-19 and 2016-17, which rank as its tenth and eleventh snowiest winters on record, respectively. (Burlington’s current season snowfall total, at 71.6 inches, is about 5 inches below the seasonal average of 76 inches, as of March 19.)
Top 10 Snowiest Winters since 1892
|Burlington, VT||Concord, NH|
|Winter Season||Snowfall (inches)||Winter Season||Snowfall (inches)|
Across the border in Concord, NH, weather records date back before 1892, during which time several seasons with more than 100 inches of snowfall were measured. Since 1892, however, Concord has recorded only four winter seasons with more than 100 inches of total snowfall. This includes 118.1 inches that fell in 2007-08, which still ranks as Concord’s snowiest winter on record.
The winter of 2014-15 also stands as one of Concord’s top 10 snowiest winters in the last 130 years (coming in at #8, with 91.9 inches). While winter snowfall and temperature trends have grown more variable in recent decades, total snowfall in the Granite State has been trending up since the 1970s, as shown in these graphs assembled by researchers at the University of New Hampshire.
At Least We’re Not in California!
This trend toward snowier winters isn’t just hitting New England. In the next few weeks, California will approach an all-time record for winter snowfall, despite being in the midst of a two-decades long drought. As of March 16, California’s winter snowfall total stood at 56.4 feet, or 223% of the state’s long-term average, second only to a record 67.7 feet of snow set in 1951-52. That record still could be tested in coming weeks, as several of California’s s snowiest winters logged at least one-fourth of their season snowfall total after March 15.
This winter season, California has been hit by a dozen separate atmospheric rivers – long, narrow bands of airborne moisture that can carry saturated air thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean. In San Bernadino County, located east of Los Angeles, more than 625 structures in mountain communities have been either damaged or destroyed under the weight of this year’s extreme snowpack. And throughout California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, many communities remain short of food and basic supplies as local transportation routes have become virtually impassable.
The snowpack in California is so thick it forced several ski areas to close in order to dig out their ski lifts.
Fortunately, there is better news with respect to California’s longstanding megadrought that has persisted since 2000. One atmospheric river that hit California two weeks ago shattered daily rainfall records in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, cutting the amount of severe drought in the state in half from the previous week. Now, only 8% of California remains in severe drought, down from 80% just three months ago, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Just over a third of the Golden State remains in some level of drought, however.
As the snowpack melts in coming months, it’s expected to further improve drought conditions across much of California and the western United States. But that could also lead to more severe floods, which at present cover much of the Sacramento Delta and central California coast. Approximately 44% of the U.S. is at risk for flooding sometime this spring, according to NOAA’s National Water Center.
Get Ready for More Weather Extremes
Recently published research provides fresh observational evidence for worsening global weather extremes – both heavy precipitation and drought conditions – due to the effects of human-caused climate change. Other studies have shown that climate change is causing atmospheric rivers to carry more water vapor, and for the movement from wet to dry extremes to become more pronounced and persistent.
At the same time, evidence is mounting that climate change is displacing the polar jet stream and releasing more extreme cold and snow into mid-latitude regions, as explained in this recent post. Also, as mentioned earlier, a video presentation by YaleClimateConnections.org illustrates how some winter storms are growing stronger and more extreme due to fluctuations in the polar jet stream.
The takeaway message is that global warming won’t eliminate snowfall in our region anytime soon. In fact, we may get even more snowfall than normal in coming years.
Our Solaflect Trackers are built for New England winters – past, present and future! With dual-axis tracking technology, our Trackers make the most of every minute of available sunlight, following the Sun’s movement precisely from dawn till dusk.
During winter days, our Trackers operate at a steep angle to the Sun, when it’s low in the sky, and “sleep” at night in a vertical position. This dynamic snow-shedding feature translates into thousands of dollars of extra electricity production over 25 years of dependable, four-season service.
Solaflect Energy is your trusted home energy management partner. We help you install clean and affordable solar electricity for a more resilient and climate-friendly future. For more information email us, or call (802) 649-3700.