January 12, 2012

Winter’s nearly half gone — with (almost) no snow

With winter approaching its midpoint this weekend, Wichita – and much of the nation – is pondering a question.

With winter approaching its midpoint this weekend, Wichita – and much of the nation – is pondering a question.

Where’s the snow?

Wednesday’s flurries offered no accumulation for the metropolitan area, and only .01 of an inch of snow has fallen in Wichita since Dec. 1.

“It’s just the way the pattern’s been,” National Weather Service meteorologist Ken Cook said. “Our weather has been really mild and dry.”

But it’s not just Wichita: Snow covered just 15 percent of the continental United States earlier this week: essentially the Rockies, the upper peninsula of Michigan, far northern New England and a portion of west Texas south of the panhandle.

There’s no one reason snow has been scarce this winter, meteorologists say.

A large area of high pressure along the Pacific coast is blocking storms from the central and western United States, said Mike Smith, senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions in Wichita. The storms are deflected north into Canada, and miss most of the U.S.

A strong La Nina is also contributing, meteorologists say. A La Nina, marked by cooler than average Pacific Ocean temperatures, is often associated with dry winters across the southern U.S.“A few storms are able to make it into the East as they go up over the ridge through western Canada, then dive southeast,” Smith said.

The pattern has left ski resorts around the country high and dry. Children eager to go sledding or build snowmen are wondering when Mother Nature’s going to cooperate. Alaska, meanwhile, is having one of its snowiest winters in years.

In Wichita, the brown winter means there are hundreds of unsold snow shovels and an estimated 45,000 pounds of ice melt gathering dust at Indian Hills Ace Hardware, 2439 W. 13th St., said Larry Paul, the semi-retired former owner of the store.

But the Home Depot on McCormick in west Wichita has sold at least half its stock of snow shovels and many snow blowers this winter, said Brenda Craig, who works in the gardening section of the store.

“We’ve been selling stuff right along,” Craig said. “People are being more prepared.”

“Like, last year, when that storm hit the northeast part of town so bad, there were no snow blowers to be found,” she said. “People have learned and come in early and bought ’em.”

Wichita is no stranger to winters with little snow. In fact, two winters – those ending in 1992 and 1923 – recorded no snow at all.

If not another flake fell the rest of this winter, 2012 would rank third on the list. Less than half an inch of snow has fallen in Wichita this winter, and most of that was recorded on Nov. 8.

There’s little snow in the forecast.

“There’s nothing really significant in the forecast as far as precipitation goes for the next week,” Cook said.

If not for an unusually mild December, Kansans might well be talking about one of the snowiest winters in memory.

Wichita recorded its fifth-wettest December in history, with 3.69 inches of moisture. That’s about three times the average for December in Wichita, weather officials said.

The warm temperatures meant precipitation fell as rain instead of snow.

The snow-to-water conversion table for the Wichita area states that 10 to 12 inches of snow has the same moisture content as 1 inch of rain. That means if all of December’s precipitation had fallen in colder temps, Wichita might have been digging out of more than 30 inches of snow.

The snowiest December in Wichita history was in 1918, when 16.3 inches fell.

“We would have blown that out of the water,” said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Wichita branch.

The record for most snow in Wichita during one winter is just under 40 inches, Kleinsasser said, so this winter would have been well-positioned to challenge that if temperatures had been colder in December.

Kansas as a whole averaged 1.69 inches of rain last month, which is double the average. The generous rainfall eased the drought in southern and western regions, state climatologist Mary Knapp said.

“But we have been pretty dry here now for a few weeks,” Cook, of the National Weather Service, said. “That (drought zone) is going to start creeping back up if we don’t start getting some precipitation pretty soon.”

Craig[, for one, isn’t worried about the dry spell, though. Snow’s arrival, she insists, is only a matter of time.

“We’re going to get it sooner or later,” she said, chuckling.

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