Snow has been a no-show for some traditionally wintry cities
Growing up in New England, Leah Ofsevit's most cherished childhood memories were blanketed in snow. She remembers running barefoot outside with her brother at the first sign of it, building snowmen and ice castles most winters, strapping on skis as a toddler.
Ofsevit and her husband, Jeremy Garczynski, want to pass those traditions onto their children, 3-yearold Lewis and 8-month-old Asher. They were hoping this would be the year: Tiny skis were purchased for Lewis, and they planned to ski their favorite Massachusetts ski trails while dragging Asher behind them in a sled.
But three months into winter, with March arriving, their skis and sleds are mostly gathering dust. She doesn't like it one bit.
“It's not what I envisioned for my kids,” says Ofsevit, who was on her high school cross-country ski team and lives in Melrose, just outside Boston. “Its such a big part of being a kid in New England.”
For much of the eastern United States, from Massachusetts all the way down to parts of West Virginia and into Ohio, winter has been a bust. While parts of the Midwest have been hit with repeated snow storms, much of California including Los Angeles got blanketed of late and even parts of the Southwest saw near-blizzard conditions, many East Coast cities have missed out.
Boston, known for nasty nor'easters and a blizzard last year that dumped nearly two feet of snow on the city, had seen just over 11 inches as of last week compared to an average of 38.6, according to data from the National Weather Service. Philadelphia has gotten only 0.3 inches compared to an average of 19.2. New York, which typically gets over two feet by now, has seen only 2.2 inches. Similar shortfalls have been seen in Providence, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C. and parts of West Virginia.
There have been exceptions like Buffalo, which in November got walloped thanks to lake-effect storm, caused by cold air picking up moisture from warmer lakes. Yet, says David Robinson, a Rutgers University geography professor and the New Jersey state climatologist: “For the most part, it's been a winterless winter.”
A big reason for the lack of snow has been the warmer conditions, Robinson says — conditions driven in part by human-induced climate change. The northeast is among the fastest warming regions in the country.
The region has seen plenty of precipitation, but often it has been too warm to snow. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont all had their warmest January on record, while Indiana, New York and Pennsylvania their second warmest, according to the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But other factors are at play.
La Niña, which involves a large-scale cooling of ocean surface temperatures, has led to unusual cool conditions in the eastern Pacific Ocean. As a result, the jet stream, which would bring colder conditions to the region, has kept that air closer to the Canadian border rather than dropping down into the northeast.
The polar vortex, which spins like a whirling top above the North Pole, also remained strong through mid-January, which kept the colder air bottled up in Canada, according to Judah Cohen, who studies the relationship between the polar vortex and the weather and is the director of seasonal forecasting for Verisk AER.