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2012-2013 Waterbury Winter Weather Summary

A bar graph of the month snowfall at our house in Waterbury, Vermont for the 2012-2013 winter season
Waterbury snowfall for the 2012-2013 season – broken down by month

The last snowstorm of the 2012-2013 winter season extended all the way out to Memorial Day weekend to produce some great late season skiing, but now that we’re well into summer and all the snow has melted, we can look back at how the winter went down at our location in Vermont’s Winooski Valley.  The main focus in the seasonal analysis below is on snowfall, but snowpack and temperatures will be discussed as well.  In this post I’ve hit on some of the highlights that came out of the data, and attached our various plots and graphs, but to get to the full data set, you can use the following link:

2012-2013 WINTER WEATHER SUMMARY

Thankfully, this past season’s snowfall (144.2”) marked a notable increase over the previous season (115.3”), but the total snowfall for 2012-2013 was still less than 90% of average, so that’s not likely to lift the season into the category of “great” winters.  In addition, the amount of snow on the ground at the house last season didn’t help to improve the winter’s standing.  Using the value of snow depth days as an integrative way of representing the season’s snowpack, one finds the 2012-2013 winter season producing a value of 729 inch-days, less than half the average value, and right down there in the basement with the well below average 2011-2012 season (688 inch-days).  And, if the overall snowpack depth hadn’t already undermined any chances of redemption to an average level, the 2012-2013 snowpack secured the season’s ignominy by reaching the lowest value we’ve seen in January and February (3.0”), and coming within a hair’s breadth of melting out in the area around our measurement stake at a record early date in mid March:

A plot showing this past season's rather meager snowpack at our location in Waterbury (red line) relative to average (green shading)
This past season’s rather meager snowpack at our location in Waterbury (red line) relative to average (green shading)

Often, each month of the winter/snowfall season has its own unique flavor with respect to the weather, so one method I like to use to get a feel for the winter is to look at it on a month-by-month basis.  Again, the focus below is on snowfall at our location, but snowpack is also considered, as well as mountain snowfall/snowpack and the associated effect on the local skiing.  I’ll have a separate 2012-2013 ski season summary coming up, so I’ve kept the ski discussion minimal here in anticipation of a more thorough discussion in that report.  The month’s total snowfall is listed at the start of each section below for reference:

October Month IconSnowfall:  0.1”October snowfall isn’t reliable enough down at our elevation to be factored much into the seasonal assessment, but this October was on the weak side, with just a tenth of an inch of snow, vs. the mean of roughly an inch.  One small feather in the cap of 2012-2013 is the fact that the first accumulating snow fell on October 12th, which beats out 2010-2011’s October 15th snowfall by three days, and now represents the earliest measurable snowfall I’ve recorded here at the house since I started monitoring the weather in 2006.

November Month IconSnowfall:  6.3”November snowfall came in just a bit below average this past season, so certainly not remarkable, but notable in that it was probably about as average a November as we’ve seen.  November has typically been feast or famine when it comes to snow.  We actually had a total of five snowstorms in November, but a small to moderate storm of 4.4” at the end of the month contributed the bulk of the monthly total as well as some of the first great skiing of the season in the mountains.

December Month IconSnowfall:  49.5”December held the first lengthy, redeeming snowfall period of 2012-2013.  Although the first half of the month was extremely poor on snowfall (just 2.2” of snow at the house), from the 16th of December onward, temperatures got cold and snow came in for a dramatic change; close to 50” of snow fell on us in the second half of the month, and as a whole the month actually wound up several inches above average.  We received our second (15.5”) and fourth (11.7”) largest storms of the season during that stretch, right near Christmas and just a few days apart, so needless to say, the snow was there to set quite the holiday mood in the valleys and up above on the slopes.

January Month IconSnowfall:  21.9”January continued that good, snowy weather pattern in its first week, albeit to a lesser degree than December, but unfortunately that modest first week ultimately wound up representing roughly half of the month’s snowfall.  The second week featured a couple of substantial thaws with no measurable snow, and in fact we received no accumulating snow at all for the period between January 7th and 16th, a very long stretch for the mountainous areas of Northern Vermont during the winter.  The third week of January offered just a few small systems, and the fourth week was arctic cold with minimal snow.  The final week attempted to recoup the losses with a modest half foot storm, but it was too little too late – the month ended with just 21.9” of snow, by far the lowest January in my records.  The combination of very low snowfall and two January thaws was very deleterious to the valley snowpack – after coming down from the depths achieved in December, the snowpack depth at our location never even reached 10 inches again during the month, and got as low as 3.0 inches.  That is ridiculously close to losing the winter snowpack in January, definitely the closest we’ve come based on my records since 2006.

February Month IconSnowfall:  31.4”February was again below average in snowfall, partly due to the continuation of the dry arctic pattern in the first week, and it wound up missing the mark for the lowest February in my data set by less than an inch.  Although that persistent dry pattern didn’t make for a very snowy first half of the month, our third largest storm of the season (12.6”) hit in the second week.  It was still a rather modest storm, but at least it did break that one foot mark for accumulation at the house.  By the end of the third week of February, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake actually poked above average for the first time in about a month and a half – but it was only by a couple of inches, and it quickly went back below average as the snowpack sat there essentially stagnant for an entire month.  On February 21st, the snowpack was at 65”, and roughly a month later on March 18th, it was still at 65”, without any major consolidation of more than a few inches.  That’s stagnant.  Our snowpack at the house languished similarly, never even getting above 10 inches of depth during that stretch – and that’s a time of year when it is usually building to its peak of the season.  The carryover of the low snowpack from January also set the lowest mark (3.0”) for snowpack that we’ve ever seen in February.

March Month IconSnowfall:  30.8” – Although certainly not approaching what we saw in the second half of December, the last part of the winter/snowfall season was the other relatively bright spot to mention.  This was aided by our largest storm of the season, which delivered 21.3” during the last third of the month.  That storm was the only real standout for the month however.  It did bring March above average in terms of snowfall, but only by roughly six inches, and the resulting monthly total really ranks in the middle of the pack for Marches in my records.  The fact that the snowpack in the area around our snow measurement stake at the house was barely hanging on around mid month was certainly disconcerting, but the snowpack did recover somewhat with the help of a modest mid-month storm, that big storm at the end of the month, and reasonably cool temperatures.

April Month IconSnowfall:  4.2”April was even a couple inches below average for snowfall, but temperatures stayed cool enough to keep the winter season rolling along, and that’s what really helped make the period wintrier.  We didn’t have any notable April snow accumulations down at our elevation, just a couple of small ones on the 2nd, and again on the 12th – 13th, but the mountains continued to get fresh snow right into mid month to keep surfaces in great form and the Mt. Mansfield snowpack robust.

May Month IconSnowfall:  0.0” – There was no accumulating May snowfall down at the house this season, but that’s not too much of knock on the Month, because not getting snow in May is more the norm than actually getting snow.  The mountains did get that beautiful Memorial Day weekend storm though, and the late season powder skiing was mighty fine.  Although I can’t factor that directly into the analysis for the valley, it was quite cold in the valleys at the end of the month, and close to even snowing there.

There were a couple of other interesting notes with respect to snowfall this season:

1) Storm frequency and average storm size:  Despite coming in below average for snowfall, the 2012-2013 season offered up a healthy 51 accumulating snowstorms, almost up there with the 53 storms we received in 2007-2008.  Of course, to come in below average for snowfall with that many storms indicates that the average snowfall per storm was down, and indeed it was.  At 2.8”/storm, 2012-2013 ranks down there with 2011-2012 (2.6”/storm), the only odd seasons out compared to the more typical seasons up near 4”/storm.  For whatever reason, this season’s average came in on the low side.  This is presumably due in part to many of the everyday events being on the small side, but also due to the lack of bigger storms, which is covered in point #2 below.

2)  Storms with double-digit snowfall:  It’s certainly an arbitrary and subtle distinction, but after looking through my data, I noticed an interesting trend with respect to each season’s largest storms for our location.  In my season summaries, I always make a list of the top five storms of the season, and when the season seems to have gone well, all of those top five storms have been in the double digits for snowfall.  In fact, the “best” seasons thus far have been able to surpass that five-storm threshold.  For reference, here’s the top five list for this season, with the links to the detailed web pages for each storm:

Top five snowfall events
1. 21.3” (3/19/2013-3/24/2013)
2. 15.5” (12/26/2012-12/28/2012)
3. 12.6” (2/8/2013-2/9/2013)
4. 11.7” (12/21/2012-12/23/2012)
5. 7.8” (12/29/2012-12/30/2012)

Indeed, if we look at the number of storms with double-digit snowfall by the seasons, we see an obvious trend.  With the number of double-digit snowfall storms listed in parentheses after the season, one notes those “good” seasons – 2007-2008 (6), 2008-2009 (7), 2010-2011 (7) seemed to find a way to exceed five double-digit storms, whereas the poorer snowfall seasons – 2006-2007 (4), 2009-2010 (2), 2011-2012 (3), 2012-2013 (4) just didn’t.  Surely the law of averages comes into play here to some degree – seasons with patterns producing lots of snow likely have a greater chance of getting a big storm in here, but that’s not a given.  It’s also very suspicious that those seasons that come in sort of in that middling ground like 2006-2007 and our season of interest for this summary, 2012-2013, fall just short of making the cut.  I suspect this trend may be more intact in a location like ours because of the relatively high number of storms and snowfall, and upslope snow (which was on the low side this season) as an extra protection against huge snowfall variance, but this is going to be an interesting trend to follow into the future as a gauge of snowfall seasons.

In sum, while snowfall was certainly a bit below average, and snowpack was well below average, I’d still give the season a reasonable grade.  If C is average, I’d go with a C- for 2012-2013, just a bit off from making the average.  Were snowpack a more significant factor in my winter preferences, one could argue for going a bit lower, but at least minimal snowpack was maintained throughout the entirety of the winter to keep everything white.  Overall it could have been a lot worse, and with the amount of snowfall we did get, it’s hard to drop the season into the D range, which, based solely on snowfall and snowpack at the house, is where I’d put a season like 2011-2012.

For a complete look at all the data, charts, graphs, and tables from the winter season, head to our Waterbury, VT 2012-2013 winter weather and snowfall summary page.

September and October Snowfall Averages for Mt. Mansfield

As we head into the last few weeks of summer, some people’s thoughts turn to early snowfall in the mountains, and this topic recently popped up with respect to Mt. Mansfield in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather.  Since I have all the raw snowpack data from the Mt. Mansfield co-op station downloaded from when I created the Mt. Mansfield 24” snowpack plot, I scanned through the September numbers back to 1954 to see what they revealed.  Because the collection of actual snowfall at that station can be a bit dicey, I first checked the snowpack data that I had, and found three occurrences of September snowpack at the stake:

Date                 Snow at the stake (in.)
9/15/1959          1
9/16/1986          4
9/17/1986          2

However, assuming they have historically been using the same practice of reporting the depth of the snowpack at the end of the day (~5:00 P.M. or so) as they do now, it was likely that there was overnight September snowfall that simply didn’t make it through the entirety of many warm, September days to be reported from the stake.  Therefore, I also checked the snowfall data, and found that indeed there are a fair amount of reports of September snowfall:

Date                 Snowfall (in.)
9/15/1959          1.00
9/24/1966          0.50
9/2/1967            0.30
9/25/1967          1.50
9/22/1976          1.00
9/28/1980          0.50
9/16/1986          4.00
9/24/1989          1.00
9/21/1991          1.00
9/28/1991          0.30
9/29/1991          1.00
9/30/1992          0.30
9/23/1998          0.30
9/30/2009          0.02

There are a few years with no data, but accumulating September snow does happen on Mt. Mansfield, at a rate of roughly a couple times each decade.  I’m not quite sure what was going on with the 2009 number, since one doesn’t generally report snowfall to the hundredths of an inch; perhaps they are reporting a trace on that one.  Not surprisingly, September snowfall is more frequent on Mt. Washington with a couple thousand feet of extra vertical – the September monthly average there is 2.2” inches, and the monthly maximum is almost 8 inches, so accumulating September snow is probably fairly common.

I also scanned the Mt. Mansfield data for August, and there was even one report of accumulation there:

Date                 Snowfall (in.)
8/28/1986          0.20

Since there was also mention of October, I took a look at those data as well.  Because accumulating October snowfall is already fairly common even down here in the mountain valleys of the Northern Greens (out of the six season’s worth of snowfall data I have collected here, four Octobers have seen accumulating snowfall, and the average is right around an inch) I figured that getting October accumulation on Mt. Mansfield must be almost a lock.  Indeed that’s the case; after checking the snowpack data from 1954 – 2012, there are only a handful of seasons without reported snowpack, and one of those seasons did at least show some snowfall:

Seasons without reported October snowpack on Mt. Mansfield
1956-1957
1963-1964 – 0.1” snowfall
1971-1972
1973-1974
1985-1986
1996-1997
2007-2008

So essentially it’s about twice a decade that there is accumulating snow on Mt. Mansfield in September, and about once a decade that there isn’t accumulating snow on Mt. Mansfield in October.

2011-2012 Winter Weather Summary

Summer is moving along here in Northern Vermont, but at J&E Productions we’ve still been thinking about the winter of 2011-2012, and we’ve finally analyzed our reams of weather data and put together our 2011-2012 Winter Weather Summary.  In this post I’ve hit on some of the highlights that came out of the data, and attached our various plots and graphs, but to get to the full data set, you can use the following link:

2011-2012 WINTER WEATHER SUMMARY

The first item that I’ll highlight from the winter of 2011-2012 is the monthly snowfall plot for our location.  As meager as the snowfall was this season at our location (just 115.3” of snow, or 67.0% of our 2006-2011 average), the monthly distribution of snow did retain an aesthetically symmetrical look, peaking in January with February close behind:

A bar graph of the monthly snowfall at our location in Waterbury, Vermont for the 2011-2012 winter season
Snowfall at our house in Waterbury was relatively low during the 2011-2012 winter season, but the monthly distribution was quite symmetrical, peaking in January.

So although 2011-2012 will go down as our least snowy in the six years that we’ve been collecting snowfall here in Waterbury, the 67.0% of our 2006-2011 calculated average is relatively decent compared to the snowfall experienced at some of the first-order New England stations like Burlington (51.4%) or Boston (21.2%).  These types of seasons happen, but next season is already closing in fast, and hopefully snowfall totals will be much improved.

The next piece of information is our updated yearly snow/snowfall data table, with the 2011-2012 season now included.

A table showing some key winter weather parameters for the 2006-2007 through 2011-2012 winter seasons at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
When compared to the previous five seasons, the 2011-2012 winter season at our house in Waterbury was the lowest in snowfall, maximum snow depth attained, and snowpack on the ground as assessed by snow depth days.

The table touches on some of the highlights (or in this case lowlights) from this past winter season (top data row of the table).  The 2011-2012 winter season had the somewhat dubious honor of being the “worst” in our data set in three categories: total snowfall, maximum snow depth, and snow depth days (see the red entries in the top row).  The snowfall and max snow depth values weren’t all that far from the runner up values, but the big standout was snow depth days, which was well below the next closest season.  It’s amazing to see a number so far below the 1,000 day·inches mark, which speaks to the state of the snowpack this season.  We still had continuous snowpack at the house for about three months (vs. the typical four months) but the big factor in the low snow depth days was that the snowpack just never got that deep.  It sat around at a bit below the one foot mark for most of the season and just didn’t build beyond that except for a couple of periods in February/March:

A plot showing the snowpack depth during the winter of 2011-2012 at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
At our house in Waterbury, the 2011-2012 winter season featured a fairly meager snowpack that sat around the one-foot mark for much of the season, and topped out at just one and a half feet.

With only six seasons worth of data, the low snowfall this season did deal quite a blow to the overall calculated snowfall average, dropping it by almost 10 inches from up above 172 inches per season down to 162.7 inches per season.  That’s probably Mother Nature at work getting to her real averages after some banner years.  Even though two of the past six seasons have been up around 200 inches of snowfall, presumably that is going to happen only so often.

As for the rest of the parameters that I track in the table, they were either right around or slightly better than average this season.  An interesting note is that the number of snowstorms this season (45) was right around average, so naturally with low snowfall, the amount of snowfall per storm had to take a hit.  Indeed, while the average amount of snowfall per storm is typically up around 4 inches, this season it came out at just 2.6 inches, so there were clearly a lot of systems that were weak on snow.  This average snowfall per storm was a huge deviation from the mean (almost 2 S.D.), so that must say something about the weather pattern during the past winter, even if I’m not exactly sure what it is at this point.

While the detailed reports of the 45 accumulating snowstorms from the past season are available with more information at the 2011-2012 winter weather summary page, they’ve also been posted here for quick access.  If you know of a storm that interests you, you can head right to it.  The reports are comprised of text, links, graphs, photos, etc., and much of the text is derived from my posts and dialog from the Americanwx.com New England regional forum.  Thanks to the great features available on the forum, you can click on the icon associated with any quoted text in the report, and you’ll be linked right to that post its respective thread.  Hopefully this will be useful for folks that are researching/reviewing winter storms.  The list of linked winter storms observed at our house is listed below:

01. 10/29/11
02. 11/11/11
03. 11/17/11
04. 11/23/11
05. 12/02/11
06. 12/07/11
07. 12/09/11
08. 12/13/11
09. 12/17/11
10. 12/19/11
11. 12/21/11
12. 12/23/11
13. 12/25/11
14. 12/27/11
15. 12/30/11
16. 01/02/12
17. 01/05/12
18. 01/06/12
19. 01/10/12
20. 01/12/12
21. 01/17/12
22. 01/19/12
23. 01/21/12
24. 01/23/12
25. 01/26/12
26. 01/28/12
27. 01/29/12
28. 01/31/12
29. 02/03/12
30. 02/11/12
31. 02/13/12
32. 02/16/12
33. 02/21/12
34. 02/22/12
35. 02/24/12
36. 02/28/12
37. 02/29/12
38. 03/02/12
39. 03/04/12
40. 03/08/12
41. 03/09/12
42. 03/26/12
43. 03/28/12
44. 04/04/12
45. 04/26/12

Something new that we’ve also added this season is a gallery of our snow measurement devices in action, so other folks that measure snowfall may enjoy those images:

SNOWFALL MEASUREMENT PAGE

The various data charts and graphs from this season’s analysis can also be viewed in the gallery below: