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February 11, 2010

So far this winter: 6 feet, 7 inches of snow at BWI

 Snow depth map Feb. 10, 2010

For a city that sees 18.2 inches of snow in the average winter (and less than 12 inches in each of the last three winters), this can only be described as a jaw-dropping season. NO ONE predicted this, and no one could have.

So far this winter - and I say "so far" because there is more snow on the horizon - Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport has recorded more than 6 feet, 7 inches of snow. That is nearly four and a half times our annual average. Plenty of locations in Central Maryland saw more.

We have had three big storms averaging 21.8 inches each at BWI. Nothing like that has ever been recorded here. We have witnessed the snowiest winter, the snowiest February and the snowiest month on record for the city.

And if you can believe these guys, Baltimore has just bumped off Syracuse, N.Y. for first place as the snowiest city in the U.S. this winter. We soared from 26th place just five days ago. Washington, D.C. is 10th.

And people are complaining that their street hasn't been plowed.

Here are the seasonal numbers, all from BWI, through Feb. 10:

December:  23.2 inchesCars buried in snow

January: 7.5 inches

February: 49.2 inches

Total:  79.9 inches (6' 7.9 inches) 

Previous Record: 62.5 inches, set in 2002-03

Seasonal average:  18.2 inches

Here are the BWI stats for February 2010, through Feb. 10: 

Feb. 2-3 storm:  4.9 inches

Feb. 5-6 storm:  24.8 inches

Feb. 09-10 storm:  19.5 inches

Month total: 49.2 inches

Previous Feb. record: 40.5 inches (2003)

Feb. average: 6.4 inches

Here are some early reports on 24-hour snowfall from the CoCoRaHS network. Here are more from NWS weather spotters. Frederick, Carroll and Baltimore counties seem to have topped the charts, with many locations reporting two feet of snow and more from the latest storm. Some have more than four feet on the ground.

You can see more on snow cover across the country, including the snow depth map at the top of this post, here. 

One more thought. We're only 11 days into February - not even halfway - but so far we are running almost 7 degrees below average for the month, at 26.6 degrees through Wednesday.  We have had  just one day of above-average temperatures. If we ended the month this cold, it would be the fourth-coldest February on record for Baltimore. But surely the temperatures will rise in the next two weeks. Right?

Coldest Februaries in Baltimore:

1934:  24.3 degrees

1979:  25.6 degrees

1895:  26.2 degrees

2010*:  26.6 degrees

Average: 35.5 degrees

* - Through 2/10/10


I received this today from Frank Bonincontri, a Marylander now living in Wisconsin. His view of winter weather kind of puts things in perspective for us as we continue to dig out ahead of the next storm: 


Thanks for your articles. I have been reading them along with the updates and honestly can say I am in disbelief of how people seem to be “demanding” their streets be plowed down to the pavement. First off, I was born and raised in Maryland and now live in Wisconsin. As I type this, it is currently 1 degree outside. I cannot believe how much snow Maryland had received the past couple days and can only imagine how difficult it must be.

Let me give you a perspective of winter out here and what I had to learn as “normal” out here.

I moved to Wisconsin in 1997 and experienced my first snow of 12 inches all at once. After that, it snowed every other day with accumulations of 3”, 7” and another 5”.

Needless to say, I spent every outing getting stuck, digging myself out of parking lots, driveways and everywhere in between. I had flat tires and eventually ruined the transmission on my car from getting stuck so much.

I drove a family filled car of people into a ditch (at slow speed, no injury) and also while driving home from work one night thought I saw my wife’s car in a ditch. After nearly getting sideswiped to make a u-turn and navigating back down a snow filled, slippery, white-out road, I drove two miles back to find it was someone else with the same exact car.

Here are some interesting things:

Schools here are only closed normally when the wind chill is below 0 or we have VERY high wind. Last year I experienced -35 with wind chill and still went to work, only school closed for a few days.

Schools and business only close when it’s about 20 plus inches of snow, or at the owners/boss discretion. Typically if there is 5-10 inches, you’re going to work.

The roads are ALWAYS bad. Marylanders need to understand this; after a storm, the snow is plowed but there still remains another layer on top. NO MATTER WHAT. It then becomes a “road on top of the road” and even has its own potholes! The snow gets plowed, but the slush and low temps do not allow it to melt 100%. We drive on roads like this for months. My street has been like this for about a month along with the majority of all side streets. Major highways are always priority, then secondary county highways, then residential. They do get plowed in a timely manner, and are usually well prepared fleetwise.

The wind is always bad and creates your negative temps. Sun or no sun. The wind creates a lot of drifting and when you have wide open spaces (farmland surrounds my county) you drive into unexpected drifts all the time.

In Minnesota, they only use sand (instead of salt) to put down, which makes it a slush filled wonderland of slippery roads. The speed limit is also 75 on the highway.

During winter, I typically see about 8-20 cars that slid off the highway and now occupy the ditch and are buried in snow. Tractor trailers are no exception.

My heating bill is typically 300.00 and up

The lakes are frozen along with rivers etc, and everyone drives, dirt bikes, trucks, cars, snowmobiles, parties, have bands play, races, and ice fish on them. Only in Wisconsin I drove my car 80mph on a frozen lake and did doughnuts.

In closing, your best defense is to have a snow blower, a 4 wheel drive vehicle and plenty of warm clothes. I have learned that this is all normal, but still remember when it was all new, crazy, and shocking back in 1997. I thought I would never survive and believe me, it is still very difficult.

The only advice I can give to you all is after the snow has gone, and summer comes around, is first, buy a snow blower on a deal. Your back and heart will thank you for it. Second, enjoy your time off and spend it with your family or friends. Being stuck inside isn’t as bad as it used to be right? We have TV, movies, internet, music, our cell phones etc. Can you imagine back in the 1970’s when you actually had to talk to each other?

Frank in WI

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:20 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: By the numbers


Some people may be complaining about their streets not being plowed but I certainly can't. I live about a mile from Security Mall and I've seen where someone has plowed my street multiple times during and after the storm. I do live up the street from an elementary school but I'm not sure if that has something to do with it or not. A side street that tees into my street has also been plowed, and it was completely drifted over yesterday afternoon.

Wow- CoCoRaHS reports 48" of snow on the ground in my hometown of Towson, all from the past week! Compare this to the numbers for Buffalo, NY: 0.09" of new snow, and NONE on the ground! Unbelievable. If this is any indication, maybe the Bufallo Bills will beat the Ravens in next years Superbowl. Muhahahaha.

I can't wait to see some excellent satellite photos of the area after all of this snowfall, should be pretty awesome.

FR: We'll watch for them.

A technical question: with the high winds and the blowing/drifting snow, how do you accurately measure total snow accumulation in a storm like the one yesterday?

Frank, how did you enjoy "Kiss of Death" last night? Richard Widmark is sooo scary. One of the all-time great movie villains. I'll never forget that famous scene (won't describe it here for the faint-hearted).

Getting ready to venture out to shovel, just waiting for sun to warm things up a little since winds are so awful. Hey, folks, don't forget fire hydrants and storm drains!

(Captcha: Time tuscany)

FR: Great performance by Widmark. But how did Victor Mature survive all those bullets?

Our 77" total puts ahead of Syracuse,New York as the snowiest big city in the U.S., if I am not mistaken. Their total was 74.7" last time I checked Can you confirm this? This means we are number one in something other than crime.

FR Dunno. It's been snowing there, too. I'll try to get to it later today. Need breakfast...

Your math for Feb doesn't add up! You are missing 4 inches. I suspect you intended to report 28.8 inches for Feb 5-6.

FR: Nice catch. Actually, I meant to report 19.5 on the Feb. 9-10 storm. Left out the 4 inches that fell Tuesday. I've fixed it.

Was the protocol for measuring snow from the Feb 5-6 Storm total intentionally screwed up and kept low at 24.8 inches in order to prevent us from achieving the 28 inches needed to receive federal assistance?

FR. Definitely. It is a paid federal contractor, working with federal employees at the FAA and NWS as part of the Obama Administration's efforts to deny federal disaster assistance to one of the most reliably Democratic cities and states in the Union. That makes sense.

Here is a small satellite picture of last weekend's snow at the bottom of the page.

FR: We've also posted one.

The shot of the national snow cover is pretty impressive! It reminds me of the CGI generated images of the earth during the last mini-ice age as shown on the History/Discovery channels. Which brings me to my question; one of the theories that I have heard as a related effect of Global Warming is called "the Freezer Door Effect". In a nutshell, as the planet warms and global climate changes affect weather patterns world wide the normally isolated Artic/Antarctic pockets of extremely frigid air will be released from their normally confined areas. Much like standing in front of your freezer with the door open, at first the cold floods out creating a chill right in front of it, but eventually the temperatures will even out in the room and the freezer both causing all of the things in the freezer to melt and the room as a whole to only get marginally cooler. Have you heard this theory and would you think that our unusual weather could be so attributed?

FR: Haven't heard that one. I think our wintry weather can be explained without that much exotic climate wizardry. There's a very active southern jet stream (thanks to El Nino) and an arctic block (credit the North Atlantic Oscillation). They're combining to send big soggy storms across the southern states and up the coast, where they meet arctic air deflected into the Eastern US by the arctic block. Hence, snow.

Heh. Great snark, Frank! Not that something ridiculous like this couldn't happen (hey, we are talking about the Federal Government, after all), but your point is solid nonetheless.

captcha: dampness face


FR: Bureaucratic confusion I can buy. Conspiracy makes no sense.

I'm a native Marylander/Virginian now 25 years in TX. I remember early 70's we got 36 in. in Va, Lynchurg area. That was horrible. It is snowing here in N E TX now. We should get 4 - 6 in. by morning. It is 32 degrees. Will be in 20's in the morning. That will be bad. But the temp tomorrow will be???40's. We just aren't equipped for street cleaning etc. I remember the winters there. Glad I'm in TX. Am praying for your relief!!!!

The problem with the more southern states is simply, they aren't prepared for alot of snow. Granted, it's understandable, but it's nice to see it south of us rather than hitting us in upstate NY all the time. The record for the snowiest city in the US, is Buffalo, NY. In the winter season of 1976 and 77, the total snowfall was 199 inches. That's over 16 feet. In 2001, Buffalo had 7 feet of snow in just 5 days. So, consider yourselves lucky to have only gotten perhaps 4 feet.

Actually, I give credit to Joe Bastardi of who stated some time ago that this was going to be a winter to remember.

FR: He did. He also predicted that Baltimore would receive 25 inches of snow. For the season. We are at 79.9 inches and counting.

Just had to respond to Frank in WI...having lived in colder/snowier climates before (and still have relatives up in northern Minnesota) it is definitely true that most of the winter their roads are never scraped down to pavement and they get a lot of snow on a regular basis. BUT, because the temperatures are so much colder it is actually easier to drive on the snow - once it gets close to 0 degrees F it can become similar to driving on asphalt. Even the frozen lakes are relatively easy to drive on (hence the fun you can have with snowmobiles or doing doughnuts with your car)

I think the problem with getting snow here in Baltimore (beyond the fact that we don't have enough plows to keep up with the rare storms of this magnitude) is that the temps hover so close to freezing that you end up with an icy/slushy mix that is incredibly treacherous to drive on and re-freezes nightly. Yes, it melts quickly, but it still means several days of rather dangerous driving for a town that doesn't have much experience of driving in these conditions.

I know Frank B. wasn't insinuating that we just need to "suck it up", but I've heard that comment enough times over the past week from our northern friends and I've had to remind them that 2 feet of snow in Minnesota does not equal 2 feet of snow here. That said, there's a reason I live here now and have no plans of going further north ever again...I would much rather deal with the occasional Mid-Atlantic blizzard than months of sub-0 temps and weekly snowfalls. :)

Just wanted to say thanks for all the posts throughout these storms - it's been fun to follow!

I'm a little tired of these Midwesterners snarking at us -- "you sissies, we deal with this every year." Um, no you don't. Even places like Green Bay, Chicago and Boston get about 30 inches of snow a year -- less than we just got in a week. MOSCOW gets 18 a year, less than we got in the last storm. Even the Baltimore fire chief, a Minnesota native, said this was a butt-kicking storm.

And then we have to deal with 90 degrees and high humidity in the summer. And the occasional gale-force tropical storm.

And to think I'm stuck down here in SNOWLESS Charlotte - NOT this weekend. I'm coming up to help some high school friends dig out. Look out Mr. Snowbeast I'm coming to get you.

I grew up in Syracuse and we had snow like this all the time THEY CLEANED THE STREETS and I hardly ever missed a day of school Some one from Baltimore should consult with some one from a city that knows what to do with snow

FR: Oh dry up. As so many commenters here have been saying for a week, it would be irresponsible and profligate of Baltimore city officials to buy, store and maintain the equipment, and hire the personnel, needed to deal with winter weather like that typical in Syracuse (111 inches), for a typical winter in Baltimore (18 inches). The fact they're doing as well as they are this winter (79 inches; more snow than Syracuse, so far) is laudable.

The NWS thought the snow total at BWI was high, not low. The contract weather observer is not required to measure actual snowfall. They are required to measure snow on the ground.

Some airport weather offices are located so poorly that even snow on the ground measurements are not possible. Take a look at the observations from PHL and DTW for examples of sites with contract observers who are not required to measure snow on the ground.

Fact of the matter is that climatoligical records for older cities are a joke anyway. Chicago for example has had the "official" climate station move from downtown near the Midway airport located well south of the city and now is at O'Hare located well west of downtown and nearly 20 miles from the moderating influence of the lake.

I grew up in Winnipeg (Winterpeg) Canada, and will not bore you with blizzard and wind chill stories. I was interested that your graphic at the top of the page shows snow cover in BC and Alberta, but none in Canada east of there. Is that fact or just a US graphic that thinks the world ends at the 49th parallel? Shall I tell you where all that Red River (MN&ND) flood water winds up?
Good luck digging out. We have just hosted friends for four days who could not fly back to BWI ... we had a blast swimming and snorkling.

FR: Just a US graphic, from a US agency serving, and paid for, by US taxpayers. Enjoy the US Virgin Islands.

why are'nt we hearing anything about snowfall totals in Garrett County? We have been getting the same storms you have been getting. Our snow totals as of today for the season are approximately 175"!And nearby Terra Alta, WVa is almost at 200".Thanks to an excellent Road Crew, our roads have not been closed this year at any time.

FR: Precisely. Garrett always gets huge heaps of snow. It's good for business. And the road crews are prepared, equipped and get the job done quickly. So it's hardly news.

To make you snow shocked people feel better I suggest you go to my website and listen to the emergency radio broadcasts during The Blizzard of '77 and see my classic pics. You'll feel much better with your snowey fate.
Erno The Inferno Rossi

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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