Southern West Virginia Snow Drought Establishes New Record

Oak Hill, WV(WOAY) – Despite the snow that is on the horizon for Friday and Saturday, the damage has already been done in southern West Virginia. Winter has not only been off to a very quiet start, the mountain state is in the midst of a record snowless season.

Beckley has only accumulated 0.7 inches, tying the 2015-16 season as the least snowy winter through January 10. Twenty-one inches of snow is the 30-year average in Beckley through mid-January.

Bluefield is in the midst of its fifth least snowy winter with 1.6 inches of snow. Beckley averages 13.5 inches of snow through mid-January.

The equatorial Pacific temperatures are cooler than average, which is leading to a La Nina winter. Historically, these winters produce anemic snowfall totals, although it’s not a black and white situation. Sifting back through the data for the two most recent winters (which consisted of a La Nina) shows 27.7 inches and 43.5 inches (for December through February) respectively for Beckley, which rank near to below-average for snowfall. Bluefield typically accumulates 25.3 inches of snow from December through February and the most recent La winters overperformed 27.7 inches and 44.9 inches, respectively.

This winter is especially unique in that it’s a triple-dip La Nina or third consecutive winter with La Nina conditions. Triple-dip La Nina winters are rare, so there isn’t a large historical record of their occurrences. The 2000-2001 winter was the last in sequence of a triple-dip winter and then previously the final triple-dip was 1975-76. Bluefield had a paltry 2.3 inches in the last of the triple-dip winter in 2000-01 and only 11 inches in the 1975-76 winter. Both of these winters ranked in the top 10 for least amount of snow.

Of the two triple-dip La Nina winters, Beckley only has record of snowfall from the 1975-76 winter when 28.7 inches of snow accumulated December through February. This is well-below the average of 41.8 inches.

What other factors are contributing to the snow drought this season? Lack of a strong Pacific high-pressure ridge to drive East Coast snowstorms. Most of southern West Virginia snowstorms result from a storm track across the Tennessee Valley or along I-81. The strong Pacific jet stream has ensured the storm track has stayed west of I-79 and warm air invades ahead of weather systems.

While this can result in a wintry mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain (which we have seen at times), ultimately a transition to rain wins out in this pattern. The strong Pacific jet is responsible for the atmospheric river of winter storms triggering major flooding and crippling mountain snow in California.

A strong stratospheric polar vortex has also resulted in the cold air mainly staying bottled up in Siberia for most of the winter.

What’s next in line for southern West Virginia’s weather? The Pacific firehose will relax later this month and high pressure will build along the West Coast. This pattern will be transient, but our best chance for snow is January’s final week. The western high pressure will likely break down again in February and southern West Virginia will revert back to a warm pattern.

Stay tuned to StormWatch 4 for your latest forecast.

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