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How snowfall levels have changed in 100 U.S. cities

  • How snowfall levels have changed in 100 U.S. cities

    It’s easy to wonder anecdotally if winters are warmer, milder, or otherwise being affected by climate change, but where in the United States has annual snowfall changed the most? To find answers, look at the data. In a 2020 report titled “The Case of the Shifting Snow,” researchers from the nonprofit climate communication organization Climate Central identified how snowfall patterns have changed in 143 American cities that receive annual snowfall of at least 5 inches.

    Using data from the Applied Climate Information System, these researchers compared cities’ annual and seasonal snowfall across two decades: 1970 to 1979 and 2010 to 2019. It excluded any cities that were missing more than two years of data across these two decades from the annual analysis, and excluded any cities that were missing more than 20% of data for any season during the study period from the seasonal analysis.

    In this story, Stacker highlights the snowfall changes in 100 of those 143 cities, all of which have populations greater than 15,000 (identified using 2018 census data). The cities are ranked here according to their percent change in snowfall, from the city that had the most snowfall gain across this 50-year period to the city that had the most snowfall loss. These range from absolutely snow-buried cities like Buffalo and Utica in New York to places in the South and Northwest with almost no snow. Some of these cities have economies that rely pretty explicitly on the annual snowfall in their areas: In ski resort regions, business owners are scrambling to make up the difference in naturally occurring snow.

    Which of these cities is closest to you? Locations with huge increases and decreases may surprise you. Overall, 37 cities on this list had more snowfall in the 2010s than the 1970s, while 62 cities had more snowfall in the 1970s.

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  • #100. New York

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s–2010s: 14.7 inches (66.22%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 22.2 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 36.9 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: 1.7 inches
    --- Winter: 12.9 inches
    --- Spring: 4.9 inches

    New York City is surrounded and threaded through by different bodies of water, which could mean a variety of climate shifts are heightened by ocean-effect snow and even ice nucleation from heavy airplane traffic. Fortunately, most of New York’s subway is underground, but surface traffic is gummed up by every big snowfall and slows down the city.

  • #99. Newark, New Jersey

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s–2010s: 12.74 inches (51.04%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 24.96 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 37.7 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: 2.3 inches
    --- Winter: 11.2 inches
    --- Spring: 4.3 inches

    One of the most famous Newark, New Jersey, stories involves Sen. Cory Booker, once the mayor, who loved to help people in his city shovel snow. It was a North Pole-arizing action that many constituents loved, but many others felt was a delegation mismatch for their leader. Objectively, shoveling is the worst, so an increase of more than 12 inches a year could mean a bright future for shovel-loving politicians.

  • #98. Odessa, Texas

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s–2010s: 1.75 inches (42.58%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 4.11 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 5.86 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: -0.3 inches
    --- Winter: 1.1 inches
    --- Spring: -1.5 inches

    Odessa, Texas, is the famous setting of the original book and movie version of “Friday Night Lights,” where a tiny amount of yearly snowfall has increased by more than 40% since the 1970s. For cities in areas with rare snowfall, it’s usually enough to bring the whole area to a standstill without the right equipment, or even a supply of salt or sand for the roads.

  • #97. Allentown, Pennsylvania

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s–2010s: 10.65 inches (38.45%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 27.7 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 38.35 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: 0.7 inches
    --- Winter: 6.3 inches
    --- Spring: 4.6 inches

    The near 40% increase in snowfall in Allentown, Pennsylvania, works out to be more than 10 inches, enough to change how quickly cars are affected by exposure to salt during and to cause extra wear and tear to public structures. Fortunately, as part of the well-populated eastern end of Pennsylvania, the city is probably prepared to take on snow removal more than some other places.

  • #96. Philadelphia

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s–2010s: 7.96 inches (36.89%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 21.58 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 29.54 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: -0.4 inches
    --- Winter: 6.3 inches
    --- Spring: 0.3 inches

    Just a stone’s throw from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia has less snowfall overall and a slightly smaller increase year over year. Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the United States and was the first capital, and tourism plays a big part in its economy. Traffic from every schoolchild in a 100-mile radius making a pilgrimage to the Liberty Bell is hopefully enough to make up for any lost wintertime revenues.

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  • #95. Youngstown, Ohio

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s–2010s: 19.75 inches (36.05%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 54.78 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 74.53 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: 0.1 inches
    --- Winter: 25.6 inches
    --- Spring: 1.6 inches

    The Rust Belt’s own Youngstown, Ohio, may be best known today as the namesake of a second-tier boy band whose members named themselves after their hometown. Youngstown isn’t far from Lake Erie and has experienced pretty high snowfall for a long time, but a 36% increase means nearly 20 more inches per year. That's more than enough to inconvenience people or even trap them in their homes if enough falls at one time.

  • #94. Wilmington, Delaware

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s– 2010s: 6.54 inches (34.84%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 18.77 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 25.31 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: -0.5 inches
    --- Winter: 5.8 inches
    --- Spring: 2.8 inches

    Wilmington, Delaware, is the birthplace of actress Aubrey Plaza, and despite a reputation for crime, the city is safer now than ever. Colder, snowier weather can stanch crime the same way hot weather can exacerbate it, so maybe Wilmington is feeling the cool in more ways than one. The nearly 35% jump up to 25 inches of annual snowfall is likely increased by the city’s coastal side. Delaware has a sheltered eastern coast that’s supplied by the Atlantic Ocean and by the several rivers that flow near Wilmington.

  • #93. Norfolk, Virginia

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s–2010s: 2.42 inches (33.38%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 7.25 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 9.67 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: 0 inches
    --- Winter: -0.3 inches
    --- Spring: -3.7 inches

    Norfolk, Virginia, was founded near the original Jamestown colony in the very early 1600s. It’s another city surrounded by bodies of water that can create a snow effect, bringing precipitation. Because of its location, Norfolk is experiencing rising sea levels and increased flooding, making even a small change in the amount of snowfall—more than 33%, which is almost 2.5 inches locally—a big nuisance.

  • #92. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s–2010s: 10.9 inches (31.34%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 34.78 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 45.68 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: -1.5 inches
    --- Winter: 12.7 inches
    --- Spring: 1.7 inches

    Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is already a city prepared for winter, with local festivals like Winterfest and the Sno Jam Comedy Festival. But a 31% increase—up to nearly 46 inches—of annual snowfall is still a big change and would require the city or state to cough up more money for resources. Fortunately, having the infrastructure in place means these costs are probably minimal compared to some of the warmer, drier places on this list.

  • #91. Baltimore

    - Annual average change in snowfall, 1970s–2010s: 5.16 inches (30.48%)
    - Annual average snowfall, 1970–1979: 16.93 inches
    - Annual average snowfall, 2010–2019: 22.09 inches
    - Seasonal changes:
    --- Fall: -0.9 inches
    --- Winter: 4.2 inches
    --- Spring: 1.5 inches

    With a more than 30% increase in snowfall, coastal Baltimore is experiencing an even greater snow-related traffic crunch. It already has the worst drivers in the nation according to Allstate, and the local habits of double- and triple-parking can only be more frustrating in the snow. Triple park your car and take the bus instead.

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