It's been feast or famine when it comes to snowfall across the Northeast this winter. A snow drought is gripping coastal areas even as other locations have been experiencing average or above-average snowfall.
Storms with snow have been cruising along the northern tier at a regular interval so far this winter.
Snowfall is actually above average for a number of locations of interior New England and the Northeast. One storm during early December brought nearly 2 feet of snow to Albany, New York, alone, which has received 126% of normal snowfall to date for the season.
A lack of persistent cold air is one culprit behind the lack of snow in the Interstate 95 corridor, portions of the central Appalachians and even the lower Great Lakes region, but forecasters say that alone isn't enough to suppress snow amounts to the point we have seen so far this season.
No doubt, there needs to be a cold flow of air for lake-effect snow to pile up on the shores of the Great Lakes, and cold air outbreaks have occurred and produced some lake effect, but the bitter blasts have been very brief to this point. Snowfall in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, are well below average for the winter so far.
However, the lack of lake-effect snowfall over parts of New York state has been padded by the frequency of storms with general snow cruising along the Canada border so far.
So why the lack of snow Washington, D.C., New York City and even Boston?
A few bouts of wintry weather, including quick-hitting snow squalls, have caused occasional disruptions in major metropolitan areas of the Northeast Interstate 95 corridor.
One storm this past weekend delivered 0.2 of an inch of snow in Washington, D.C., 2.1 inches in New York City and 3 inches in Boston. Even with this most recent bout of wintry weather, snow totals remain lack-luster for the season as a whole.
Philadelphia has received only 0.3 of an inch of snow for the season as of Jan. 19, a mere 4% of average for this timeframe. Washington, D.C., has experienced 0.6 of an inch, which is 10% of normal for the season to date. The 4.8 inches recorded at New York City's Central Park is only 52% of average. Boston has received more than the other I-95 cities but is still below average at 14.6 inches, which comes in at 79% of normal.
Based on climatology, cold air is not usually consistent in the coastal Northeast early in the winter. This is because it takes the ocean a while to cool off. Any flow of air off the mild water will cause temperatures to rise and bring rain instead of snow or cause snow to change over to rain quickly.
However, cold water alone is often not enough to do the job. In order for storms to bring the big snow to the Atlantic coast early on, the forward speed of storms needs to slow down.
Thus far this winter season, storms have either been making swift progress from west to east across the nation or have taken a track well inland of the coast and toward the Great Lakes.
In order to raise the stakes for heavy snow in the Interstate 95 corridor as well as much of the Northeast region in general, storms need to slow down. When that happens, they tend to get stronger and have more time to deposit snow and produce heavy snowfall rates.
"One of the things meteorologists look for is an atmospheric roadblock that sometimes sets up near Greenland," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said.
"This pattern creates buckles in the jet stream that stall, rather than cycle through. The same pattern tends to trap cold air in the Northeast and alter the path of approaching storms," Anderson added.
Storms that approach the Northeast during a blocking pattern tend to slow down and track along the coast, rather than race offshore or plow up toward the Great Lakes.
This pattern may develop at times in the next couple of weeks; however, the setup does not appear to be rock solid enough to keep cold air locked in and allow storms to stall and strengthen of great consequence.
There is still some hope for snow lovers farther down the road, however. In general, it is just easier for snow to fall during the last part of the winter versus the first part, especially along the coast. Atlantic water temperatures tend to reach their lowest point during late February and early March, and that can help get the air temperature down to critical levels and allow that cold air to hang on longer.
At the same time, the Great Lakes tend to freeze over for the most part and allow cold air to move more freely from Canada to the interior Northeast.
"The combination of lower Atlantic Ocean water temperatures, ice-filled Great Lakes waters and typically more buckling in the jet stream later in the winter can bring more opportunities for big storms and big snow during February and March," Anderson said.
There have been other winter seasons with lean snowfall in the region.
For example, during the entire winter of 1972-73, Philadelphia International Airport recorded only a trace of snow, or less than 0.1 of an inch. During the same winter, a mere 2.8 inches of snow fell on New York City, which still holds as the record minimum snowfall for any season since record-keeping began in the late 1800s.
The lack of snow may be a delight for school districts, millions of local commuters and long-distance travelers through the region, but there are significant numbers of people who rely on money generated by plowing operations and the skiing industry to get them through the winter. And, of course, the "homework index" remains high during a winter even when there is little snowfall.
There will be some winners and losers in the snowfall department this winter.
AccuWeather's long-range meteorologists expect snowfall to be above average over much of New England and northeastern New York state this winter.
Snowfall is forecast to be below average from parts of the central Appalachians to the interior South.
Snowfall is likely to finish near average in the I-95 corridor from southern New England through the mid-Atlantic and around the eastern Great Lakes region.
Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.