Yearly Snowfall is Highly Variable in the DC Metro Area

3:25 PM, Jan 24, 2013   |    comments
It was only 3 years ago when we endured the heaviest snowfall in the recorded history of Washington, DC.
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This winter has been a disappointment for snow-lovers so far. Less than 4 inches have fallen all season at both Dulles and Reagan National Airports. Of course, it's still more snow than we had last year, which was close to nothing!

We don't have to look far into the past to find a time when we were shoveling snow by the foot. The winter of 2009-2010 is unforgettable in the DC Metro area. Not only was it a long season, with big snow events in December, January and February, but it was also the snowiest in DC history, with a grand total of 56.1". The 2009-2010 winter shattered the old snowfall record of 46", which was set in 1995-1996.

The "average" snowfall in one winter at Reagan National airport is about 15 inches. But obviously, this average amount is no indication of how much snow we can expect in a winter season! i think we might get a clearer picture of DC snowfall if we look at a distribution of snowfall amounts, by number of seasons. So, here it is:

Less than 5": 12 seasons

5"-15": 45 seasons

15"-25": 32 seasons

25"-40": 23 seasons

40" or more: 9 seasons

In 124 seasons of record-keeping, a pretty clear trend shows up. More than a third of all our winter seasons end with between 5 and 15 inches of snow. In second place is the 15-25 inch bracket, with 32 seasons in that range. Since we get most of our snowfall from coastal storms, all it takes is one big storm to determine whether we have an above-average year or below-average year.

By the way, the 2 snowiest winters on record in DC (both are mentioned above) and the 2 least snowy winters (2011-2012 and 1997-1998) have all happened in the last 20 years. Our climate records date back to 1888, so it's far from a complete record of DC weather, but it's clear we've seen a lot of ups and downs in snowfall lately!