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Oh, the weather outside is…too warm for snow, and Hell’s Kitchen has got the gigantic salt piles to prove it. It’s been 322 days without measurable snowfall in New York City, leaving many to wonder how long the streak will run — and as we approach a record lack of flakes, W42ST spoke to Climate Central’s meteorologist to learn more.
Despite deadly blizzards having already slammed Western New York, the Big Apple has not received an accumulated snowfall of at least 0.1 inches since March 9, 2022. The first record which would fall is the date of the first snowfall of the season. If we see no snowfall by January 29, that will beat the winter of 1973’s record late start to snow. Then 2020’s all-time record of 332 days without snow will be beaten if there is no fall by February 4. Spoiler: so far there’s little prospect of the white stuff in sight.
The city’s snow plows thus far have only been out for joyrides and unused salt sits piled up at the Hell’s Kitchen Sanitation station on W55th Street, one of the depots across the city which together have plenty of salt on hand. The Department of Sanitation told W42ST: “We have 700 million pounds of salt on hand and we have only used a tiny, tiny fraction of that to prevent roads from freezing over. As always, we remain prepared with the 700 million pounds of salt, our fleet of spreaders and plows and our highest uniform headcount in decades. And of course, our salt doesn’t go bad — what we don’t use this year we will keep!”
We called on meteorologist Lauren Casey of Climate Central to talk us through how we got from 2014 and 2015’s polar vortexes and 2022’s Nor’Easter to 2023’s January thunderstorms replacing blizzards. “It all breaks down to two main things. To get snowfall, you need cold air and you need moisture,” said Casey. “The issue is that we are in a warming world — and winter is a season that is warming the fastest in almost every location across the United States. The average winter temperature in New York City has warmed by 3.6 degrees since 1970. We’re seeing cold air and cold air snaps more infrequently, and the air isn’t cold enough to support snow.”
The average date of New York City’s first measurable snowfall is December 7, said Casey, adding that the city was “way overdue” for a storm. Snowfall is measured out of Central Park, making it possible to see the hyperlocal results of climate change’s effects on the New York region.
As for upstate’s buckets of snow, Casey explained that the dramatic storms showed the other sign of the coin. “A warmer atmosphere is capable of holding more moisture — about 4 percent for every one degree Fahrenheit,” she said. “So when you do get the cold air in place, those snowfalls can be bigger. In particular with Buffalo, the lakes are seeing less ice, there’s more warm water and that enhances that lake-effect snow.”
And what of the city’s late 2022 cold snaps and disorienting temperature swings? Asked about the recent jumps between single digit temperatures and early spring weather, Casey said the whiplash was due to Arctic warming and its effect on the area’s jet stream. “Typically the jet stream will bottle up cold Canadian Arctic air and doesn’t allow it to penetrate far south when the jet stream is fast.”
She added, “The jet stream becomes faster when we see a bigger difference in our temperature range of the mid-latitudes where we live and in the Arctic region. When you start to lessen that temperature differential by Arctic warning, you get the jet stream to move in a slower ‘wavy-er’ fashion. And when we get those big plunges in the jet stream, that allows that cold air to penetrate pretty far south.”
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Arctic warming is creating shorter cold snaps, said Casey, with fewer winter nights below freezing temperatures and hence, less snow. “If it doesn’t get to freezing at night, you’re definitely not getting snow,” she added. “All of our seasons are warming, and winter is warming the fastest.”
As for whether a potential Wednesday flurry could break the city’s warm spell, Casey wouldn’t bet on it. “You do have a shot at some light snow [Wednesday] morning,” she said. “But it’s going to transition to rain and that could deteriorate any measurable snowfall.” And after that, the forecast so far is dry well past January 29. So it looks like record-breaking drought is in and snow boots are out.
Nevertheless, the Department of Sanitation is ready — and looking for volunteers in case it ever really snows again in NYC: