Record Late Season Snowfalls Redux

By: Christopher C. Burt , 8:02 PM GMT on April 24, 2012

Record Late Season Snowfalls Redux

I posted a blog last year at this time on record late-season snowfalls and thought given the big snowstorm in the higher elevations of Pennsylvania and New York on April 22-24 I would produce an update.

April Snow Event of April 22-24, 2012

According to Aaron Tyburski at the NWS office in State College, Pennsylvania, the recent snowstorm that affected portions of the Appalachians and western New York State was the most substantial late-season snow event since a major late-April snow in 1928. The current storm, however, was not quite as widespread or severe as the 1928 event or as bad as some forecasts had predicted. In the end, temperatures remained just warm enough at lower elevations to cause most precipitation to fall as rain. Only elevations above about 1,500 feet received substantial accumulations. Peak state totals include 16.0” at Arkwright, New York, 14.0” at Sylvania, Pennsylvania, 6.0” at Frostburg, Maryland, and 5.0” at Crawley, West Virginia. An earlier report posted by the NWS of 23.7” at Laurel Summit, Pennsylvania (elevation 2,770’) has now been scaled back to just 13.7”. UPDATE 11p.m EST 4/24: Now, the NWS storm survey has reinstated the 23.7" figure from Laurel Summit. Pittsburgh received no accumulation as previously forecast since the temperature never managed to fall below 35°. Buffalo, New York picked up just an inch or so. It appears the largest town to receive substantial snowfall was Johnstown, PA where 2-8” accumulated depending just where (what elevation) you live in the city of 24,000.

Heavy snow in the Poconos of northeast Pennsylvania was responsible for numerous traffic accidents along Interstate 80. Photo still from WNEP Channel 16 News, Scranton.

Some Historic Late Season Snowstorms in the Eastern U.S.

The April 27-28, 1928 Upper Ohio Valley Snowstorm

The greatest late April snow previous to this week’s event was that of April 27-28, 1928 when up to 40” of snow fell in the mountains of West Virginia. The storm formed in the Gulf of Mexico with a secondary low centered over western North Carolina. The storms converged off the coast of Virginia and slowly moved north (somewhat similar to the current storm). Cold air aloft dropped the snow levels to about 2000’ in the central Appalachian region. Maximum state snowfalls were said to have been 40” in West Virginia (with 19” at Elkins), 36” in Pennsylvania, 15.5” in Kentucky, 14.0” in Virginia, and 13.0” in North Carolina (although specific city totals were sadly lacking in the report). The Monthly Weather Review published this slightly confusing map of the precipitation and snowfalls recorded:

Map from Monthly Weather Review, June 1928.

The May 4th Snowstorm in 1774

A general snowfall of around 4” occurred from northern Virginia to southern New England. Both Philadelphia and New York City reported “a considerable quantity of snow”. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both noted the event in their diaries.

The Great April Fools Day Snow of 1807

Probably the deepest April snowfall in modern history occurred on April 1, 1807 from Illinois to the Mid-Atlantic. The track of the storm was not the usual coastal nor’easter variety that normally produces great snows but rather the low moved northeast from the lower Tennessee Valley and across the mid-Atlantic states and offshore around New York City. To the north of the storm path incredible snowfalls were reported. The westernmost report we have came from Vincennes on the Illinois-Indian border with an 11” accumulation but it was in Pennsylvania, New York and New England that astonishing snowfall was reported including: 52” at Montrose, Pennsylvania near Scranton; 54” at Utica, New York, 52” at Lunenburg, Vermont; 60” at Danville, Vermont; 48” at Montpelier, Vermont; and 42-48” at Norfolk, Connecticut.

The June 1816 Snows of the ‘Year without Summer’

Most famous of all cold and snowy late season events would have to be the infamous 1816 ‘Year without Summer’ and the snowfall in June that occurred in the eastern U.S. and Canada. On June 6th accumulating snow was observed as far south as the Catskills in New York (where one inch was reported) and highlands of central and northwest Pennsylvania. Snowflakes were seen at sea level as far south as ten miles north of tidewater on the Hudson River just north of New York City. The deepest accumulations were reported in the mountains of Vermont where drifts of 12-18” were measured. Quebec City in Canada reported 12” on level with drifts up to two feet deep.

The even Greater Snow of June 1842

It should be noted that June snowfall in the Northeast is not a unique event to 1816. On June 11, 1842 widespread snow fell over northern New York and New England and snowflakes were observed in Cleveland, Ohio, Boston, Massachusetts, and even Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (a low elevation site). Accumulations of 10-12” were common in Vermont, so this event was actually more extreme than the more famous snow of June 1816.

Pennsylvania July Snowfalls

Ben Gelber mentions in his book The Pennsylvania Weather Book the strange occurrence of snow flurries in the state’s highlands of Bradford County on July 4, 1859. Snow flurries also occurred again here on July 2, 1918.

Average and Actual Dates of Last Measurable Snowfall for Selected Cities

Below is a table I produced in April of 2011 showing what the date of the average last measurable snowfall is for a season, the latest such on record, and what the last date was for the 2009-2010 season. I have done the same for this 2011-2012 season for comparison in the table below this. Of course, there is a possibility that additional measurable snow may yet fall this season in places like Bismarck, Great Falls and some of the other western sites:

Latest Measurable Snowfall for Selected Cities in the USA

Some All-time Single-Greatest Storm Snowfall Records in the U.S.A. that occurred during April and May

The Southern Appalachians have also recorded some phenomenal late season snowfalls including a reported 60.0” accumulation at Newfound Gap, North Carolina on April 2-5, 1987 and, even more incredible, another 60.0” accumulation at Mount Pisgah, North Carolina on May 5-8, 1992!

World-record Snowfalls During April

The fact is that the greatest snowfalls ever experienced in the world have occurred during the month of April and that for portions of the High Plains and Rocky Mountains April and May usually produce the heaviest accumulating snowstorms.

World Record 24-hour Snowfall at Silver Lake, Colorado

The greatest 24-hour snowfall officially measured in the world was the 75.8” that fell at Silver Lake, Colorado (in the mountains just west of Boulder) on April 14-15, 1921. The storm total was an amazing 95.0” over a 32½ hour period.

Storm precipitation (melted—in inches) total for Silver Lake event from April 1-15, 1921 Map from ‘Monthly Weather Review’, Feb. 1953, p. 39.

World-record Single Greatest Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada

The greatest single-storm snowfall on record in the world was 194” (over 16 feet!) that fell during a massive spring blizzard at the Sierra Nevada railway summit station of Norden over the four-day period of April 20-23, 1880.

An historic photo of the Norden station during the winter of 1887.

World-record 19-hour Snowfall and European Record

Europe’s greatest 24-hour snowfall happened at Bessans in the French Alps on April 5-6, 1959 when 67.8” accumulated in just 19 hours (a world record for a 19 hour period).

Bessans, France is a popular ski resort in the French Alps.

REFERENCE: Early American Winters: Vol 1: 1604-1820 and Vol 2: 1821-1870 by David M. Ludlum, American Meteorological Society, 1966, 1968. The Pennsylvania Weather Book by Ben Gelber.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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5. Neapolitan
1:42 PM GMT on April 25, 2012
Thanks, Chris. Excellent as always.

Your table that lists the all-time single greatest storm snowfall records in the US that occurred during April and May shows Lander, Wyoming, receiving 52.7" on April 24-26, 1999. I can believe it; that's a snowy place. I lived there for my high school years (and a few after that), and I was always fascinated and dismayed by the variable weather there. For instance, people could be playing golf in shorts in early May, and a week later the course could be covered with 6" of heavy, wet snow (and two days later, folks would be back to golfing). I heard more than once that, over the years, snow had been experienced on nearly every day of the year, and I can remember at least one July 4th parade/rodeo where everyone wore coats and the sky spit sleet all day.

It is odd that there weren't a lot of daily low records set, or at least not as many as some predicted. (That was the case with October's monster Northeast snow event, as well.) In fact, so far (at least) the NCDC isn't listing any all-time April low minimum temperature records for this week's Northeast snow event, and only 60 or so daily low temperature records. (By way of contrast, the NCDC shows that 865 record daily highs have been set or tied--including 140 or so all-time April high temperature records--in the past four days alone.)
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4. rlk
2:41 AM GMT on April 25, 2012
Couple of other good ones in more recent years:

* April 5-6, 1982: 10" in NYC, 13" in Boston, followed by a real arctic blast (April 6 temperature range in Boston was 16-25 -- record low and low max so late in the season). The snow was dry and powdery, not the usual April glop. There was a fair bit of lightning in the storm, with a sharp cold front on the back end (from already extremely cold temperatures for April) and near-ground blizzard conditions with heavy blowing and drifting in the cold air.

* March 31-April 1, 1997: 25" in Boston, 33" or so in Worcestor. Heavy, wet glop.

While the 1997 storm was a lot bigger, the 1982 storm was more impressive in my view because of the mid-winter cold and being later in the season.
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3. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
12:07 AM GMT on April 25, 2012
Thanks for noticing this error! The actual date for Seattle's last average measurable snowfall date should read Feb. 15.


Quoting noraed:
I think there's a transcription error here--the table lists April 15, 1972 as the record latest snowfall for Seattle, but also lists April 15 as the average latest snowfall for the city.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
2. noraed
9:44 PM GMT on April 24, 2012
I think there's a transcription error here--the table lists April 15, 1972 as the record latest snowfall for Seattle, but also lists April 15 as the average latest snowfall for the city.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.