Western U.S. Atmospheric Rivers Partially to Blame For Mild West Virginia Winter

Oak Hill, WV (WOAY-TV): The Atmospheric River has made headlines countless times this winter, but what exactly is it and how does it impact our weather in southern West Virginia down the line?

Similar to the New River Gorge, Potomac or Mississippi, it literally is a large band of moisture but not at the surface, but rather high above where planes and jets fly.  This 200-400 mile band of atmospheric moisture races across the Pacific from Japan or Hawaii.

When it encounters the Sierra, it gets extra lift from the 6,000 to 14,000 foot mountain ridge. The air here is cold enough for heavy snow to pile up in feet and that’s what’s been happening all winter long.

As a matter of fact, as of early this week, the Central Sierra Snow Lab, which has been keeping records since 1946, has measured 677 inches of accumulation this winter. This is enough for the winter of 2022-23 to rank as the second snowiest on record.

Typically an enhanced Pacific jet stream, which brings one atmospheric river after another, floods much of the lower 48 with mild air. We can see the impacts of that locally when we review the top 10 snowiest winters in the Sierra.

Of the top 10 snowiest Sierra winters, six of them were below average for snowfall back home in southern West Virginia and three saw above average snow. There was one winter with no local data reported.

This was our third year La Nina winter, but the common ENSO pattern with the top 10 snowiest Sierra winters were El Nino patterns. This just proves while El Nino and La Nina have global impacts, each one is unique and guided by other teleconnection or jet stream patterns.

We just happened to get lucky and a Stratospheric Warming Event unleashed enough cold air for a few of the Pacific storms to arrive here with snow in the last few weeks. These pictures were taken just one week ago when 1 to 4 inches accumulated across our region, the biggest snowfall of our paltry 2022-23 winter season.

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